Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Forest House
Penguin Books 1993
Gaius, son of a Roman prefect in Britain, is riding in the country not far from the house of some friends he is visiting when he gets lost and falls into a bear pit. Fortunately, he is found by two girls and rescued before bleeding to death, and he keeps his wit, speaking to the rescuers in the Celtic tongue of his mother's people instead of the Latin he usually uses. The house he is taken to belongs to the druid Bendeigid, a man who hates the Romans. Eilan, one of the girls who found Gaius, is his daughter, while the other girl, Dieda, is the daughter of his father-in-law, archdruid Ardanos. Eilan wants to become a virgin priestess of the Forest House. Bendiegid also has a foster son, Cynric, whose mother was a priestess on the holy island of Mona and his father some Roman soldier who had raped her when Mona was destroyed. Not surprisingly, Cynric shares his foster father's view on the Romans. He belongs to the secret society of the Ravens, sworn to fight the Romans. If Gaius had planned to fall in love with a British girl, he couldn't have found a more complicated family situation. But of course he didn't plan. It just happened.
This is a lovely Romeo and Juliet story set in Roman Britain. The connection to Arthurian legends and her own "The Mists of Avalon" are not very important, this is a story that could stand firmly on its own. If she just had been a better writer this would've been a major heartbreaker fantasy romance. It's still a good enough read, when you're in that mood, but the dialogue is sometimes quite lame and unnatural. I believe she's done her research work properly, but sometimes it would've taken some more work to weave the information into the novel in a good way. And just like the case is with "The Mists of Avalon", her own religious agenda is quite easily recognizable. Her version of Celtic paganism is adapted to the New Age beliefs of today, but it's nevertheless interesting to follow the struggle between male and female paganism, druidism and the cult of the goddess. I suppose it has no roots whatsoever in historical facts, just as her description of early British Chrisitianity is quite far away from any truth, but read as such it's quite funny.
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© Henriksson & Henriksson 1999.