Reviewed by Evie Woolmore
February 1, 2013
The first volume in Catherine M Wilson’s trilogy not only takes us back in time to a Bronze Age community, but also back to a time when story-telling was a foundation of identity, of learning, of sharing, of preserving the past and of religious belief. And Ms Wilson is definitely a story-teller herself, infusing the whole book with that same instructive, atmospheric and narratively compelling style that define the age-old stories her character tells.
The novel is told in the voice and through the eyes of Tamras, a girl who leaves home to join a deeply hierarchical community of women warriors and their companions, and it chronicles her relationships with, among others, three principal female characters: her friend Sparrow; the warrior she becomes companion to, Maara; and the head of the community, Lady Merin. Eager to please and eager to learn, yet driven by her independent spirit, she must learn not only her way around the complexities of the community she has joined, but also how to trust her instincts in wishing to befriend the solitary Maara, whose loyalty is doubted by the others.
One of the great strengths of this book is its fluency, both in the way it is written and its readability. Tamras, like all the women in this book, is on a journey, and there is a feeling of great continuity about the story, as though one is following just one thread in a great tapestry of life. Certainly, when the first book ends you will want to read on to the next volume. What makes the story unusual, at least to some readers, is the almost complete absence of male characters: not until about three-quarters of the way through is a male character drawn with sufficient detail to make him leap off the page. For some readers that will be an enormous asset, for others it will make the book seem a little flat. The women warrior characters have many of the personality traits that male characters might bring, but for this reader there could have been a little more variation in character tone. Ms Wilson has captured the powerful and productive intensity that strong female relationships create, and their intellectual and emotional journeys will be very familiar and inspiring to many readers. But at times the book, for this reader, felt so constantly intense that some variation – more humour, a greater variety of personalities – would have been welcome.
And there, for me, is the missing 5th star. I felt while reading this that I was always waiting for something to happen. And that it never quite did. The characters seem constantly to be waiting for something, and while their internal journeys give the book that readability and fluency I noted earlier, and while there is a neat and satisfactory ending to one particular character journey at the end of this volume, the book had the same even pacing of its age-old stories, and felt almost too “story-told” to me. I longed to see the warriors fighting, to feel more of a rush in the pacing at times, and not just to hear about it second-hand.
Nonetheless, this is a highly readable book which captures its period and atmosphere extremely well, and will lure readers on to read the whole trilogy.