1st century AD. The Romans have invaded Britain, and Caractacus, the charismatic Celtic leader, is struggling to unite the warring Celtic tribes against them.
We meet the warrior and seeress, Trista, who has been brutally enslaved by a rival tribe. She manages to escape but runs straight into two Roman foot soldiers. One of them, Morcant, isn’t all he seems. He’s half-Celtic and his superiors find him a useful scapegoat when things go wrong. Trista senses that he’s also a shape-shifter, a werewolf, even if he himself doesn’t yet recognize it. Soon, Morcant, too, is on the run. Their only hope of survival is to help each other – but there is little mutual trust. Even if they do learn to co-operate, which side will they fight on?
N. M. Browne’s writing has been compared to Rosemary Sutcliff’s, and one can see why. The writing has an almost visceral quality, and it’s powerful stuff. The land Trista flees through is cold and wet and smells of death, sweat, fear and the primeval forest. She is plagued by prophetic nightmares about death but they offer no guidance. Morcant’s shifting from man to wolf is also entirely believable.
Unfortunately, I didn’t take to Trista. She seemed stuck emotionally which made it difficult to identify with her, and her endless nightmares became somewhat tiresome as little was resolved.
The problem is that the book lacks a proper plot. There’s a series of exciting events but that’s not the same thing. Trista’s wanderings are pretty purposeless (she doesn’t care whether she finds Caractacus or not) and I was longing for there to be more at stake for her. Having said that, I was still gripped by the power of the writing. Children of 11 plus who can cope with the dark side should enjoy this book.