J.S. Dunn takes on an unusual time in history in Bending the Boyne, 2200 BCE Eire (Ireland), which was a draw for me. With "marquee" novels currently the "in thing", I found myself refreshed by the concept of reading about an era unexplored by historical fiction authors.
The ancient civilization of Eire was on the brink of the Bronze Age in 2200 BCE, although the Continent, Near East and Mesopotamia were further advanced into the Bronze Age in varying degrees.
Bending the Boyne commences with Starwatchers in a village located on the river Boyne. The Boyne Starwatchers are central to other Starwatcher tribes on Eire and their ceremonies and mounds are of utmost importance for all. Stargazing and equinoxes determine much of Eire's activities, such as planting, harvesting, etc.
Lately, Intruder boats have been seen coming and going from Eire. The villagers on the Boyne fear the Intruders' invasion and threat to centuries of Eire stargazing traditions and way of life. These trepidations have always been relieved in the past when Intruder boats depart Eire.
This time, although, a murder starkly forces the Starwatchers to acknowledge they can no longer expect to live unmolested by Intruders. Not only is their way of life threatened, their survival becomes imperiled. Starwatchers are peaceful tribes, not warriors, unlike the Intruders. How can they expect to prevail against Invaders with weapons and trained warriors?
Bending the Boyne is told from 2 viewpoints, that of Boann, a young Boyne villager who aspires to the greatest heights of knowledge in astronomy, and Cian, a Boyne villager who has gone to live with the Intruders and considered by many Starwatchers a traitor.
Murder proves to be only the initiating devastation for the Boyne residents. An Intruder, Elcmar, builts a fort close the Boyne village. The Intruders steal the villagers' livestock, leave them at risk of starvation. Intruders impose strict restrictions upon their activities, threatening their culture and heritage.
Elcmar becomes champion of the Intruders through primal rites, chooses Boann as his first wife and offers his protection to the Boyne village in exchange. Boann considers the proposal and accepts, believing that by doing so she preserves the ability of her people to continue with their astronomy and efforts to decipher the mystery of the North Shift. Her hope is the marriage brings peace between the Boyne village and Elcmar's warriors.
Boann soon discovers Elcmar's first wife is not is his first love or priority. The peace Boann hopes for Boyne will never be hers as long as she is married to Elcmar. Elcmar believes there is gold on Eire and his overwhelming desire is to locate it. He is not alone in this quest. Other Intruders compete in the race.
While Boann struggles to adjust to distasteful Intruders' habits, maintain contact with the Boyne village residents and continue to study astronomy, Cian is engaged in battles of his own. He walks a fine line with the Intruders, his life is in peril at all times. He will take great risks and undertake many voyages to travel to strange lands, all for the sake of his people.
Bending the Boyne is the story of 2 people who sacrifice for the sake of their people, albeit in different manners. Yet both are determined their actions be for the good of their tribes, preservation of ancient customs and restoration of Eire to its rightful inhabitants.
Major obstacles impede their intents. Copper mining is extensively active on Eire with a complicated system of graft between the miners and influential men on the Continent. Ciann must somehow learn the techniques of extracting metal without dying in the process.
Boann bears a son who is taken from her to learn the warrior ways of the Intruders. A son who will someday be pivotal to Eire's future. Boann's challenge is to counter the Intruders' education of her son with the ancient conventions of Starwatchers.
J.S. Dunn has written a fascinating historical fiction novel. The minute details of astonomy, ancient Eire customs and knowledge of the Bronze Age blend seamlessly with two protagonists who are passionate about their causes. Dunn imparts scientific facts in such a manner that the reader does not feel like he or she is holding a text book. It reads and feels like a historical novel in which the characters really could have existed in the mists of time.
My Rating: 4/5 Stars (Excellent)