A Painted Winter (Pictish Conspiracy)

Written by H. Barnard
Review by J. Lynn Else

366 CE. Lucia never wanted the Gift, as a healer reincarnated over and over in service to the gods. However, when her mother has her assassinated, Lucia is reincarnated in a strange land. When she’s found by two Pictish princes, Brei and Taran, Lucia must hide her Britannic origins within the lands the Romans once pillaged. As rumors stir that the Romans are leaving the area south of the Great Wall, the brothers begin gathering warriors for revenge. They haven’t forgotten the attack seven years earlier that claimed their father’s life, when their mother was taken, and Brei’s wife assaulted. Using the name Sorsha to hide her origins, Lucia’s healing gifts quickly manifest. Yet she longs for more than this singular purpose for her life.

I enjoyed Barnard’s inclusion of a list with ancient versus modern place names (in order of appearance, no less) instead of a character list. It was delightful following character movements in this way. While the landscape details are exceptionally researched, metaphors and manner of speech don’t always measure up. Referring to women’s “heart-shaped faces” (15th-century artistic origin) or speaking “deadpan” (20th-century origin) are more modern references and distract from an otherwise immersive setting. Lucia’s reincarnation is a bit confusing. After her death, she wakes up in the same season and year in a new body, but what happens to her old one?

Barnard keeps tensions high as the brothers are often working towards different agendas. After refusing the crown, Brei finds himself at odds with the Druwydds and his younger brother’s ambition. Additionally, Lucia’s struggles for independence versus her expected role are compelling drivers to the story. Social customs and mythology are enchantingly sprinkled throughout the narration. By the end, deadly secrets and high-stakes power plays will keep readers on the edge of their seats. Recommended!