Against a Darkening Sky: A Novel. Lauren B. Davis. ChiZine Publications. May 2015. 300 pp. ISBN#: 9781771483186.
Wilona, the only survivor of a plague that destroyed her family, travels to the village of Ad Gefrin where she becomes the apprentice to Touilt, a seithkona or seer/healer. Many people come to Touilt for her medicine treatments and Wilona learns quickly. This is King Edwin’s medieval kingdom in a time of great transition with the coming of Christianity. It is believed that when all convert, the kingdom will prosper as natural progression from belief in the triune God.
Before that occurs, however, we have an account of Wilona’s training which is lovely reading. In between learning about how nature provides healing properties, we realize how dark, cruel and primitive are the conditions under which these people live. Touilt sees many visions which the reader may find frightening but which Touilt interprets as life-giving, protective and wise. Wilona herself has visions of an owl which is to be her guide, totem or daemon.
We next meet Egan, a devout monk whose Christianity is bounded by his own humility or scrupulosity. His superiors take his bumbling errors in stride at first but then decide his humility reeks of excessive pride. At the same time they recognize his timid kindness and speech as a great tool to be used in servicing the King’s desire that all come to Christ.
Wilona and Egan develop an uneasy friendship at first. When the town villagers come to destroy Touilt’s spirit drawings and figures and physically beat her, Wilona trusts no one. She believes it is only time that awaits her own torture to force her to convert. Egan insists otherwise.
The remainder of the novel dwells on changing circumstances that change the people’s certitude about Christianity. The results of these challenges are riveting as the ending reveals a new way of dealing with how spiritual beliefs fit into the vicissitudes of daily medieval life.
Very nicely crafted – recommended fantasy historical fiction that challenges adamant religiosity!