cover image The Dawn Stag

The Dawn Stag

Jules Watson, . . Overlook, $24.95 (560pp) ISBN 978-1-58567-621-7

In the second volume of Watson's richly imagined historical fantasy series, the Dalriada trilogy (after 2005's The White Mare ), Roman governor Agricola expects an easy victory against the unorganized tribes of Alba (modern-day Scotland). But a Celtic leader has appeared: Eremon, exiled son of Irish king Ferdiad. With the help of his recent bride, princess Rhiann, Eremon prepares to defend Alba against Agricola's crack troops. Husband and wife must overcome years of tribal rivalry and the powerful jealousies of enemies like Maelchon, king of the Orcades islands and Rhiann's rejected suitor; the scheming druid Gelert; and former priestess Samana, who hopes to manipulate Agricola with sex in order to gain a rich Roman household in the empire. Watson brings first-century A.D. Britain to vivid life with just the right details at the right times, and successfully keeps the tension high throughout this long story, balancing violence and tragedy with romance and religious transcendence. (Feb.)