Circle of Stones
When a reader opens a history textbook, it is expected to be rather flat and unemotional. I expect more from a historical novel. This book was packed full of interesting historical facts and detail, but the delivery left much to be desired. I learned some new things, but did not enjoy myself along the way. I recommend this one only for die-hard history buffs.
Part of my frustration with the book was that I did not know what point the author was trying to make. There were many quotes from Welsh sources about Madoc’s discovery of America. Fine, but what does that mean exactly? Is there a dispute in historical sources about who discovered America? I think that is an interesting topic, but the reader is thrown into the story without really knowing the author’s true purpose in telling this story. On page 492 there were some revealing questions about the author’s motivations for this novel. These definitely needed to be closer to the start of the story so the reader could develop a frame of reference.
Circle of Stones focuses on Brenda, the mother of Madoc. Madoc, his life, and his lineage are apparently a Welsh legend. Brenda is the mistress of the Prince of Wales, Owain. Owain is a druid, but also must pacify King Henry and Eleanor of Aquitane, who are Christians. Brenda has healing skills and spends much of her time with druids and hopes to become one. The persecution of believers in the old religion by Christians is a main focal point of the plot. I found this aspect of the book fascinating, and also enjoyed seeing life from the Welsh point of view in relation to King Henry and Eleanor, who are not portrayed in a flattering light. The Welsh struggle to maintain their own identity, separate from England, was all new information for me.
Brenda is told that her son, fathered by Owain, is destined for great things. Owain is a busy man and gets his wife, along with his two mistresses, pregnant at the same time. The boys are born on the same day. There is an old irelWelsh legend about 3 sons born on the same day who overthrown and kill their father. Owain decides that only one son may live, and although Brenda is his favorite, her son must die. Brenda, with the help of the druids, travels to Ireland, her homeland, to hide her son. She must return to Owain, since he has sent soldiers after her. The rest of the book chronicles Brenda’s experiences with Owain, and not much is heard from Madoc until he returns to Wales at the age of 17 (or so).
Brenda appears to be an interesting and intelligent woman. Prince Owain appears to have been a decent king, but he spent much of his time fathering sons and then warring with them when they grew up. The reader, however, never really gets to know any of the characters because of the excessive changes in point of view, sometimes in the same paragraph. It was a struggle for this reviewer to determine whose thoughts were whose. Because of this, the writing style was very choppy, and the transition between new ideas, paragraphs and plot points was hard to determine. The essential connection between the reader and the characters was not allowed to develop.
Although it appears the author did an amazing amount of research, there was a glaring mathematical error that drove me crazy throughout the book. The table of contents listed at the beginning of the book lists dates for the various parts of the story, but the dates do not correspond to Madoc’s stated age. If Madoc was born in 1152 and returned to Wales in 1164, that would make him 12, not 17. Because of the events and happenings in the book, I determined that the date should more properly be stated as 1169. The editor should have caught this right away because it affects the entire time line for the book.
The subject matter of this story was of personal interest to me, but because the characters were flat and the writing style annoying, I had to force myself to finish it. The author states this is the first book in a series about Madoc and the discovery of America, but I am not willing to suffer through the writing style to find out what happens in the next book. The author mentions a connection between Madoc and the Mandan Indians of North America, so if I have a further interest in this subject, I can research the details myself. If you are truly interested in druids, the onset of Christianity in Wales and the discovery of America, read the questions on page 492, and then find another source of history.