Roman Britain, 370 A.D. Canio, a Roman ex-soldier, has by illicit means become a wealthy landowner. When the Roman governor orders him to hand over a bronze figurine of the Celtic goddess Hecate, Canio claims truthfully he does not have it. Not believing him, the governor threatens him with death if he does not deliver the idol. So Canio sets out to find it, joined by Bodicca, a wise woman, and an orphaned boy of seven.
Essentially plotless, the novel is a journey. Day by day, mile by mile, the reader travels through the weather, landscape and villages of the West Country. Crumbling roads signal the collapsing empire. Christianity is a thin veneer over the Roman and Celtic gods; Venus is overpainted to become an angel, but the people worship in Minerva’s temple. Nothing much happens: Canio kills a jailor; an old pagan priest is buried; Canio is robbed by a whore; a coppersmith makes a copy of Hecate. And yet the journey is fascinating. A convincingly unsympathetic hero, Canio is softened—a little—by the sad but lively boy. Bodicca is infuriatingly always right.
Because this is the fourth in a series, too much of the narrative depends on events in the past, making the ending unsatisfactorily inconclusive. However, as the bulk of the novel is such a leisurely, enjoyable read, it can be recommended, but not perhaps for lovers of action.