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The White Raven and the Oak

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Success Stories

by Margarett Mirley


ISBN 1 905237 59 6
Matador, 2006
477pp, paperback
Retail price 8.99

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Review by Deborah Fisher

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One of the criteria people (often unconsciously) use to help them decide which book to take from the shelf is the quality of the cover design. Looking at the cover of The White Raven and the Oak, one would never suspect it was not the output of a major publisher. Nor would one guess from opening the book that Matador is an independent publisher. The typeface and layout have a very professional feel to them.

There is a slightly Christmassy effect to the cover image, with its red and green motif against a white background. This is no bad thing if Matador have the Yuletide market in mind. It does not give much of a clue as to the content of the book, however. The real significance of the sprig of oak leaves is linked with the druidic rites which form such an important part of the narrative.

We know next to nothing about druidism, beyond what the Romans have told us about the wild men with their long white hair and robes, etc. The characters in this book bear no more than a passing resemblance to the mental picture most people have of the Celts of Western Europe in the days before Julius and Augustus Caesar. They are a mixed bunch of Greeks and native Gauls, with a few Britons thrown in.

Most of the time, it is a little difficult to say who is the hero. At first everything points to Steo, or Rhynwedh to give him his bardic name. Steo is druid to Andod, an old friend and the "White Raven" of the title. Andod is married to Gerwerith, with whom Steo has long been in love. Subsequent events take an unexpected turn, and other characters come to the fore. These include Ruan, another of the "leave-takers", who, as it turns out, also has a soft spot for Gerwerith.

The novel has its flaws. There is a preponderance of dialogue over action, and this is not good in such a lengthy book. It is not just more description that is needed; it is more exploration of people’s feelings, rather than just the things they say. Most of all, though, there is a lack of excitement. You have to plough through an awful lot of words to get to the battle scenes that form the climax of the story. It is a massive and unwieldy tale. However, unlike a "real" historical novel in the vein of, for example, Colleen McCullough’s First Man in Rome, it does not have the excuse of needing to accommodate the truth. Margarett Mirley could have written more or less anything she wanted, and it is regrettable that she did not choose to write about things that the reader was better able to relate to. Moreover, she clearly has her eye on the sequels, and it feels as though this has distracted her from the task in hand. The effort required to read this first instalment did not bring the anticipated rewards, and it would take some persuasion for me to continue with the rest of the "Kuklos Trilogy".