The Circle of Ceridwen by Octavia Randolph

The Circle of Ceridwen by Octavia Randolph

‘I was born in 856, at a time when the Island of Britain was divided into many Kingdoms.’

This is the voice of Ceridwen, the central character in this novel.  The story itself opens in 871, when Ceridwen is aged about 15 years old.  By this time, five of seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms have fallen to the Vikings.  Ceridwen, having left the Priory where she has lived since she was 9 years old, meets Ælfwyn and her attendants.  Ælfwyn is on her way to be married, against her will, to Yrling, a Viking war chief.  Ælfwyn’s marriage is part of a peace treaty.

Thus begins ‘The Circle of Ceridwen’, the first of six (so far) novels about the life and times of Ceridwen.  The story unfolds slowly.  Ms Randolph provides a wealth of detail about the world in which this novel is set, about the impact of war on individuals and villages, about the differences between cultures and religious beliefs.  I found myself reading the novel comparatively slowly (unusual for me) to immerse myself in the world and to appreciate the development of the story.

While I wondered about some of Ceridwen’s choices, I became caught up in the story.  Ceridwen’s adventures were too interesting for me to quibble about plausibility, and I enjoyed the three-dimensional characters peopling the pages.

As soon as I finished this novel, I bought the next two in the series. If you enjoy historical fiction with well-developed characters, with a likeable female protagonist and set in 9th century Britain, I recommend this novel.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith