The book continues the tale from Hades’ Daughter (wouldn’t it be strange if it didn’t!), the events taking place two thousand years after Cornelia had to murderously put a stop to the completion of the Troy Game by Brutus and Genvissa. For two thusand years Asterion had tried to find the kingship bands of Troy. During this time he kept the other players from rebirth but, frustrated beyond measure at his inability to penetrate the magic with which Brutus had hidden the bands, Asterion finally allowed the rebirth of Brutus, Genvissa and Cornelia during the early eleventh century.
Many things can happen in two thousand years. Asterion can cause a great deal of mischief indeed, but other … underground … things can happen also. The Game was left incomplete when Cornelia murdered Genvissa, and that had never happened previously. It was left still … growing. Over two millennia the Game developed into something that Brutus or Genvissa could never have imagined. The Game has taken control of its own fate, and it has conducted an alliance of its own to protect itself from the evil swirling all around it. But an alliance with what?
Genvissa and Brutus have been reborn, thinking they need only the kingship bands to complete the Game and wield its power. The Troy Game has other plans. As does its new partner in subterfuge.
The mid-eleventh century was a period of particular turmoil in England’s history. The long and reasonably peaceful reign of Edward the Confessor was coming to an end, and he had no male heir. Edward had been married for some fifteen or sixteen years to the daughter of Godwin (or Godwine), the powerful Earl of Wessex, but he famously refused to consummate the marriage … and thus the title of the book. Queen Eadith, or Caela as she was more familiarly known, was left a virgin through fifteen years of marriage, and had to ‘enjoy’ the popular sobriquet of ‘God’s Concubine’ sniggered behind her back through all these years. Poor Caela, as Cornelia was reborn. She never had much luck with her husbands.
As Edward’s life drew to a close there emerged three main contenders for the throne of England.
- Godwin’s son, Harold, who had become the most powerful nobleman in England after his father’s death. As Earl of Wessex Harold commanded the respect and loyalty of the Anglo-Saxon witan, the council of advisors to the king whose job it would be to elect the new king on Edward’s death. Harold was Edward’s obvious successor, much to the chagrin of Edward himself, who loathed Harold.
- Harold Hardrada, King of Norway. He had no claim on the throne. He just wanted it. Badly.
- William, Duke of Normandy. William had two tenuous claims to the English throne. He had a faint link to it through a great-aunt who had married a former King of England, and, secondly, Edward was rumoured to have promised the throne to William in gratitude for the help William had given him when Edward had been ousted from England by his stepfather Cnut (a tricky tale that has no bearing on the current book). The second was the more serious of the claims. (Note that at this time the throne of England was not automatically passed down from father to son, although a son had an added advantage. Instead, the witan elected the new king which is a pleasant way of saying that whoever had a) the nicest smile and b) the most swords got the job.)
Almost all the characters from Hades’ Daughter are back. I’ll tell you who most of them are here as they become very obvious within the first pages of the book.
Cornelia has been reborn as Caela, the reviled wife of Edward the Confessor. She is the daughter of Godwin, Earl of Wessex (dead by the time the book truly gets underway), and thus she is sister to Harold … which causes a few more complications that you might immediately think.
Brutus is back as none other than the Bastard of Normandy, Duke William.
Genvissa returns as the beautiful, ambitious and scheming common-law (or Dane-law) wife of Harold, Earl of Wessex and later King of England. Her name was Eadith, as was Caela’s, but, like Caela, she had a popular nickname. Genvissa is now known as Swanne, for her lovely ‘swan-neck’.
Gentle, beautiful Coel is back as Harold, powerful Earl of Wessex, and leader of the Anglo-Saxons. Claimant to the English throne, and sister to God’s Concubine herself. Imagine the emotional complications! And married to the woman who, in a former life, had arranged his murder. How … interesting. I wonder how they get on in this life.
Asterion is back, but … strange … no one quite seems to know who he is. Everyone knows he is present, but the Minotaur is such a slippery character that none seem to quite be able to pin him down. Asterion also has a couple of ‘helpers’ in this book. Nasty, dark characters indeed, and we’ll be seeing far more of them in the rest of the series.
Loth, Erith and Ecub all return, forming a protective grouping about Caela.
And Mag is back. But … hang on … she’s about as slippery as Asterion. No one quite knows what Mag is up to. Or exactly where she’s gone.
Finally, of all ‘returnable’ characters, we have Brutus’ father, the famously slain Silvius (remember Silvius? Stuck with an arrow in the eye during the stag hunt when Brutus was fifteen?). Silvius was trapped in the heart of the Game during the opening Dance of the Torches, when Brutus once more confronted his father within the forest, and once more slew him. Now Silvius take a firm hand in events as they progress, and the ‘firm hand’ he offers Caela is perhaps not quite what you’d expect (and certainly not what Brutus had expected!).
There are a few notable new characters. Chief among them is the redoubtable Matilda, wife of Duke William of Normandy. Matilda (who, believe it or not, never grew above 4 foot, 2 inches in height) is fully a match for Brutus-reborn, and she does one very notable thing for him during this book. She teaches him how to be a good husband. She also manages to keep him away from Swanne, Genvissa-reborn, which is something Cornelia could never manage.
Then there are the Sidlesaghes, the ‘sad songsters’. They are, quite literally, the stones of all the neolithic stone dances (or circles) of Britain come to life. They are ancient, mystical, magical creatures who, oddly, seem very much at home inside the Troy Game itself. They also make very good ticket inspectors on the London Underground (you’ll just have to trust me on this one).
Obviously the action in this book is going to revolve about the final year of Edward the Confessor’s life, and then the subsequent battles for control of England (and thus of the Troy Game) between Harold, Hardrada and William of Normandy. Every event as we know it from our history books is underwritten with the struggle for control of the Game … and an unbelievable treachery as Caela, Cornelia reborn, once again thwarts Brutus and Genvissa with the aid of the magical, lovable Sidlesaghes.
©2003 Sara Douglass Enterprises