Dark Earth

Rebecca Stott. Random House, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-0-8129-8911-3

Stott follows up the memoir In the Days of Rain with an impressive narrative set in the aftermath of the Roman Empire. By 500 CE, the Romans have abandoned Britain, their city of Londinium lies abandoned, and Seax leader Osric is consolidating his power among the diverse peoples south of the Thames. Sisters Isla and Blue live with their father, “The Great Smith,” who forges Osric’s ceremonial swords. The Great Smith’s seemingly magical metalworking skills, Isla’s differently colored eyes, and Blue’s psychic gifts signal an occult power to Osric, who fears this will bring his people bad luck. As such, the family remains under Osric’s protection, but he exiles them to a tiny island on the Thames. When The Great Smith dies unexpectedly, Blue and Isla travel to Osric’s camp hoping to find safety. Instead, they encounter Osric’s violent son Vort, who is enraged to discover Isla has defied the sacred law against women entering a forge, possibly cursing the swords she has helped make. While fleeing retribution, the sisters discover a hidden community and new possibilities for the future. Stott concretely captures the brutality of the women’s world, their deep resourcefulness, and the power of the stories that sustain and endanger them. This is a memorable achievement. Agent: PJ Mark, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (July)
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