The Blurb (from Goodreads):
A thrilling historical novel and the sequel to the critically acclaimed Skin, perfect for fans of Outlander and Game of Thrones.
One woman’s quest to defend her culture.
Haunted by the Roman attack that destroyed her home, Ailia flees to the remote Welsh mountains in search of the charismatic war king, Caradog, who is leading a guerrilla campaign against the encroaching army.
Ailia proves herself an indispensable advisor to the war king, but as the bond between them deepens, she realises the terrible role she must play to save the soul of her country.
Set in Iron-Age Britain, Songwoman is a powerful exploration of the ties between people and their land and what happens when they are broken.
I’ve had this book on my to-be-read shelf for quite a long time, but at last picked it up because I was sharing a stage with Ilka Tampke at the Bendigo Writers’ Festival. I’m so glad I did! I loved it.
It’s the sequel to Ilka Tampke’s earlier debut, entitled Skin in Australia and Daughter of Albion in the US, which sold international rights around the world, was shortlisted for the 2015 Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel, and longlisted for the 2016 Voss. I have not read Skin but I intend to very soon – it did not matter, as the author did a brilliant job of interweaving back story with the current narrative thread.
The book is set in Wales during the Iron Age, during the rebellion of the Celtic tribes against the invading Romans. It tells the story of Ailia, the Kendra of the Albion people (a title that seems to mean some kind of spiritual leader or prophetess). She has been living wild for a year, grieving over the destruction of her village by the Romans, but decides to go and join the rebels, who are lead by a charismatic chieftain named Caradog. It is not long before she falls in love with him, but he is already married and all his focus is on his war with the invaders. Ailia feels adrift, her role as Kendra undermined by the chieftain’s advisor and Druid journeyman, Prydd, who does not trust her. She meets a Songman, and comes to believe that her role is to learn to sing as he does, to instruct and inspire and bear witness to history.
Anyone who knows anything about Iron Age Britain will know that the valiant resistance of the local Celtic tribes ended in tragedy. This adds poignancy to the tale, as does Ailia’s doomed love for Caradog. The writing is deft and assured, and life in ancient Wales is brought vividly to life. I loved the mix of history and fantasy and folklore, and was reminded of the work of Rosemary Sutcliffe and Marion Zimmer Bradley – a wonderful read!