Daughter of Albion: A Novel. Ilka Tampke. St. Martin’s Press. April 2016. 368 pp. ISBN#: 9781250081094.
Ailia is a foundling who spends her entire life looking for her true identity, her “skin,” or her totem. Brought up by a strict but loving servant and healer Cookmother, Ailia knows she can never marry, have children (who would be recognized by her culture) or be part of any formal learning. The latter is the hardest part for Ailia as she is bright and gifted. All of this doesn’t initially sync with what follows, especially meeting a swimming fish who morphs into the magical Taliesin. They immediately fall in love but so many obstacles seem to keep them apart. What is magical about their relationship is the fact that Taliesin knows part of the story that keeps him fish-bound and unable to enter human territory but disappears when Ailia demands more of an answer. That hunger compels Ailia to enter the forbidden forest, an act that will change her life and that of her community forever.
Ailia is led to the “Mothers” who possess all tribal and other-worldly knowledge. In spite of her inability to name her “skin,” Ailia is allowed to learn and be tested by the Mothers. It is there that she is acknowledged to be the “Kendra’ or savior of the Celtic tribes; however, her status is rejected by many whose tribal identity and foundation is based on the knowledge behind each person and the community’s skin. The nerve-wracking trial to come is the decision of Rome to invade Britain. Placating these Romans with gifts and money before now, community leaders and soldiers are very divided between those who would pacify them with surrender and those who would fight to victory or death rather than submit to domination. Another male, Ruther, and Ailia are attracted but Ruther is enamored of Roman power and knowledge, a definite challenge to any chance they might have together in the future.
The essence of Daughter of Albion… is similar to Marianne Zimmer Bradley, author of The Mists of Avalon, one of this reviewer’s favorite novels (and from which comes my pen name, Viviane Crystal). An otherworldly, magical world is depicted where right and goodness prevail, albeit not without knowledge of how to deal with the evil in the real world. Idealistic living is honored and centers all individual and community living. Characters are open to the flow between the spiritual and temporal world; the “Old Ways” are celebrated indeed!
Daughter of Albion is finely crafted with so much more than this description reveals. Highly recommended historical fiction that is delightful reading!