Review: Song Of The Centurion – Steven A. McKay

Warrior Druid Of Britain 2

My version: Hardback
Genre: Historical Fiction, Post-Roman Britain
Broadsword Publishing
First published: 2019
Pages: 285

From the cover:
It is AD 430. Against all odds Princess Catia has been rescued from her brutal Saxon captors and Bellicus is taking her home at last.
As the giant warrior-druid knows, however, the gods rarely make things easy and, even if he can escort the girl back to the North safely, their troubles will be far from over…
In a land beset by the rivalries of petty warlords, Dun Breatann has stood solid and secure for untold generations. Trouble brews though as King Coroticus has cracked under the pressure and, as well as starting a war with the neighbouring kings, he has become jealous, suspicious, and often blind drunk. When the king’s paranoia finally boils over during a winter feast, Bel finds himself with two choices – accept exile, or complete another seemingly impossible undertaking.
So much for the returning hero…
Accompanied by his massive war-dog, Cai, and the ever-loyal former centurion, Duro – who has his own painful issues to contend with – Bellicus must somehow survive a journey east into enemy-held lands. There, he will need to use his gods-given talents to the full if they are to survive the winter frosts and carry out the mad king’s orders without being captured or killed by the men of Dalriada.
Folklore, superstition, the healing power of song, and even a wondrous white stag will all play a part in the companions’ continuing adventures, but, no matter the outcome of their mission, it will take a miracle to untangle the mess they’ve left behind in Alt Clota. Armies are gathering and, when spring returns, the people of Dun Breatann will be under siege once again.
Will their legendary warrior-druid be there to defend them, or will the new ways sweep away the old once and for all? Find out in Song of the Centurion, the action-packed sequel to 2018’s The Druid!

For me, Steven A. McKay can’t put a word wrong. His stories, from the Robin Hood 14th Century world where he made his name, and now in the 5th century era of his Druid series, are always engaging, the characters always sympathetic (the ones who we are meant to be sympathetic to), and above all and perhaps most importantly, they are believable believable. Not only in the circumstances they find themselves in in the book, but, as you get to know them, fitting for the character. Yes, Bellicus would say that, as a Druid and as Bellicus. That sort of thing.

Operating in the same time period as James Wilde’s Arthurian nonsense, but just making a whole lot more sense, the first book in his Druid series was an absolutely superb start, a real knock-you-off-your-feet read and promised much for this, the second. Steven has taken that superb start and developed it. This feels deeper, somehow. I’m no writer so I’m not at all sure how he’s done it, just glad that, as a reader, he has. The main Druid character we knew fairly well from book one … here, as the title perhaps (!) suggests, we broaden the story’s scope and find out about the centurion Duro. Not only a great character, but an important element in documenting the stories period. The Romans have left, though their influence and legacy is still felt, not least by Duro. The post-Roman British world is forming, various tribes and ordinary people feeling their uncertain way forward to a new world order. The centurion is a great linking character, as he is still in the social structure the Romans left behind, and there is a marvellous feeling of the longing for the certainty and social structure the Romans brought and ruled Britain by, but he is realistic enough to know that that time, no matter how much he might miss it and hope it to come back, isn’t going to. Something new must be found to take its place. It’s an uncertain time, but…the old ways, which were subdued by the Romans’ suffocating might, have survived in often isolated pockets. Druids suffered terribly under the Romans, so perhaps a former Roman centurion isn’t the obvious friend for Bellicus, but it is now our Druid who is showing that to go forward in uncertain times, they need to go back, to a structure that could be said that because it survived despite the Romans’ tyranny, is not only much more ancient, but also much more powerful…

Steven’s writing has been a wonderful blast of fresh Historical Fiction fresh air. Ever since I first got entangled in his Robin Hood series. Open, honest and above all exciting, his writing also embodies a deep empathy and understanding for the hopes and fears, trials and tribulations of his characters. I loved The Druid and I loved Song of The Centurion, I know I’m going to love the next book in the series.

You can buy Song Of The Centurion from Amazon

Photo by Omendra Singh on Unsplash

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