THE ANVIL STONE
Kathleen Cunningham Guler

 


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Book Three of the Macsen’s Treasure Series
Bardsong Press, March 2006
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Britain, a little before King Arthur

Marcus ap Iorwerth is a spy for the British High King. He is also the Lord of Dinas Beris, and as such is required to attend the crowning of Uther Pendragon. This gives him a front row seat on Uther’s pursuit of Ygerna, wife of his top general. Everyone knows it’s trouble, even Uther. Marcus wouldn’t mind so much Uther falling in love, except that Britain’s lesser kings must be kept united so that when Arthur, the predicted hero of the future, arrives there will still be a High Throne.

Between Marcus’s assigned missions, he is obsessed with locating the High Regalia, to be ready for Arthur. Three pieces have been found, and are in Uther’s hands. In THE ANVIL STONE, Marcus and his clairvoyant wife Claerwen are on the trail of the Sword. He has too many enemies to be able to concentrate on the quest, and too many horrible memories.

Claerwen has some enemies of her own, but her main concern is for Marcus. He keeps hiding problems from her. Claerwen doesn’t want to be protected, she wants to contribute. And she could, if only Marcus didn’t have this annoying habit of stopping her from giving him important information. It’s amazing how many times this happens; you’d think he would have learned, by about the fifth time she tells him something he has been puzzling desperately about for months. But through hell and high water, Claerwen remains dedicated to her man, and he to her.

Much of the action takes place in deep woods. Peaceful forest soothes the soul, and so it does for us. This forest glows with the health of deep woods untouched by man. We need the moments of restorative harmony it offers us between frantic action.

Author Kathleen Cunningham Guler writes from the “People don’t change, circumstances do” school of thought. The feelings of Marcus and Claerwen, which we sense as if we were inside them, could be those of our own families. The only thing that makes them different from characters of our time is Claerwen’s clairvoyance, which Britons call “fire in the head” and attribute to the gods. The similarities make them and their friends easy for us to relate to. And why shouldn’t Guler make them feel familiar? The Celts are her own ancestors.

Guler acknowledges in her Notes the difficulties of writing realistically about fifth century Britain, about which so little is known. Arthurians accept this. A reasonable way to deal with our lack of historical knowledge is to strike out from the main legend, and create fictional people who do not have boundaries they must stay within. Hard as it is to believe, Marcus and Claerwen never existed, giving Guler the freedom to fill in the blanks without slighting the probably-historical members of the cast.

You who like to be transported to ancient times, especially Arthurian or Celtic: Your question in deciding whether to read THE ANVIL STONE is, are you willing to be swept up in physical and mental pain? There is a lot of it. Guler wants you to be swept up, and skillfully arranges to make it happen. It is meant to be pleasurable. Aside from that, other factors say yes. THE ANVIL STONE is vivid and emotional, and gives a lasting impression of realism.

THE ANVIL STONE can be read as a stand-alone without any awkwardness; the necessary background is provided. The earlier books of Macsen’s Treasure are INTO THE PATH OF GODS and the award-winning IN THE SHADOW OF DRAGONS. THE ANVIL STONE is currently a finalist for the Evvy Award.

July 2006

 

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