It is southwest Britain in the 6th century, and the Saxons are threatening again a generation after they were stopped by Aurelianus’s (Arthur’s?) victories. As British kingdoms fall, Dumnonia waits in trepidation, its morale further weakened by internal conflict between the old religious beliefs and an intolerant Christianity preached by Gildas. Influenced by his wife, King Cador sides with the priest, though his three daughters cling to the old ways and their ability to draw on the magic power of the land. As a further complication, Keyne, the middle daughter, is transgender, as is Myrdhin, a druid who also practices the old ways. And is the warrior Tristan really an ambassador from another British kingdom as he claims, or is he a spy? And for whom?
The primary inspiration for the story, however, is a traditional British murder ballad known as ‘The Twa Sisters’. Needless to say, with these ingredients this is a dark novel, filled with violence and hardship, deception and betrayal, frustration and jealousy, remorse and guilt. In other words, very appropriate material for its Dark Age setting.
Point-of-view alternates between the three sisters, each of whom suffers stress of varying intensity, but as the plot advances and the trio inexorably forge their own fate, the story grows more involved. Since Myrdhin and the sisters are able to draw on the magic of the land, this may be considered historical fantasy except for the decline in belief that magic is weakening. Magic has little significant impact upon events, apart from the harp that gives voice to the dead sister. Highly recommended.