|Sarah Isidore: The Hidden Land|
Eos (Paperback), ISBN 0-380-80318-6
Their villages and homesteads ravaged by plague, a group of druids in Gaul decide to sacrifice a black cat to appease the gods and end their people's suffering. They dispatch Veleda, a girl descended from druids, to catch the cat, but Veleda pities the cat too much to allow it to be killed.
Veleda also suspects the cat possesses magical powers -- a suspicion the cat confirms by leading her through a jeweled forest into the Otherworld and the temple of Bast, the Egyptian cat goddess. The goddess deems Veleda worthy to receive certain gifts, including the power to defeat the plague. But the powers and gifts of a goddess come with a price -- one that may prove too high for Veleda to pay.
Bast charges Veleda to unite the Celtic tribes of Gaul so that they can withstand the encroaching might of Rome. Accompanied by the magic cat that led her to Bast, Veleda travels to the druidic colleges of Eire to learn how to use her powers.
But Bast's dark sister Sekhmet, the lion-headed goddess of blood and death, nurtures other plans. Sekhmet protects the legions of Rome, and she will do whatever it takes to make sure Rome wins and Gaul loses.
Isidore very obviously spent a great deal of time researching her subject matter. Unfortunately, Isidore's fascination with the religions and politics of Egypt and pre-Roman Gaul too often surfaces as a lecture instead of context. Interesting though it was, the data tended to interfere with the pace of the story, its narrative tension and the relationship of Veleda to those around her.
Nonetheless, Isidore's intriguing, ambitious concept -- blending two very diverse ancient cultures and beliefs -- promises to become even more intriguing as the series progresses.
Patricia White is the Sapphire Award-winning author of A Wizard Scorned. Her current book, the western Edwina Parkhurst, Spinster, is available from Hard Shell Word Factory.
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