Age of Iron, book one in Angus Watson’s Iron Age trilogy. These books have been on my radar for some time and finally, when I found myself in possession of some spare Audible credits, I bought an audiobook version.
These books were quite visible, at least here in Poland, cool covers everywhere in local bookshops, translated same year original editions were published. I expected light reading, with lots of gore and not-too-sophisticated humour. Something in the vein of Conan maybe. Somehow, I missed that they were supposed to take place in historical pre-Roman Britain, only with a dash of magic added.
And lots of forging 😉 Although, personally, I would start with glory, and then, thanks to fire-forged leadership, finish with legends, but maybe the order doesn’t matter…,
Anyway, technical aspects – no complaints. Sean Barrett did a very good job reading the book, not overdoing it like, say, the guy that did Iron Druid Chronicles. Audible app still refuses to store the files on my external memory card, so it’s not perfect, but nothing to do with Watson.
Watson did a fairly good job writing a fast paced, funny piece of light genre reading. Nothing too innovative, or surprising, but amusing enough for the readers to enjoy, if they are into this kind of stuff. I don’t mind it, I even like it – from time to time, and the time was right.
The plot does not really matter that much. We have Dug, middle-aged mercenary disappointed with his earlier life, hoping to get an easy job in the army of a local despot, Lowa, female archer and one of said despot’s most ruthless warriors, and Spring, a troublesome young girl who (gasp!) turns out to be more than a ragged orphan. Things get complicated quickly and our three protagonists (and a few others) find themselves united in an effort to get read of King Zadar. Zadar is not only a bit too brutal, but also openly schemes to submit Britain to Roman rule. Will they succeed? Take a guess…
Still, books like this are not meant to surprise the reader. And there are fights, chases, questionable jokes, the time goes by and you realise that it’s all over, and maybe it will be worth it to read the next one.
All that would give the book a 7/10 score and a provisional recommendation 🙂
There is a historical note at the end of the novel… wow, author seems the claim that this is supposed to be some kind of historical fiction. That wasn’t necessary, this piece of decent genre distraction makes a poor, biased historical novel. At least, from the point of view of a purist that also happens to like Romans 😉
We don’t meet Romans themselves here, not yet, and what characters say about them might not even be true inside this universe. The Celts though…
They are modern-day liberals (plus occasional human sacrifice), discussing political philosophy and advanced economics with terminology and depth of analysis not possible, in our world, before mid-twentieth century. The language does not have to sound archaic to tell a good story, but these Celtic pig-farmers seem to be, politically, a bit too progressive.
One thing that is hammered into readers’ heads every second page or so, is gender equality among the Celtic peoples. In the army, politics, and all the other aspects of daily life, it exceeds the average standards of early twenty-first century societies. Maybe women have it better in Sweden, but in Poland – the men could learn a lot from their counterparts in Watson’s Britain. And it’s not only the supposed reality, everybody is quite aware of it and ready to discuss the advantages of applied feminism. And this is the single thing that convinces the general populace to turn against Zadar.
The relative personal freedom of women in Ancient Rome and Iron Age Britain is a complicated topic, and, as Watson rightly noticed, we do not have a wealth of credible sources. The popular assumption that barbarians were treating their females better than early civilizations is a complicated, hard to research issue, not made easier by hippie history dominating the popular media, but no sane historian would go as far as Watson goes. There is so much context here I don’t have time to go too deep. But whatever these people were, they were not as self-aware as our characters, in a world without universal education and mass media it was simply not possible.
I don’t mind fantasy settings, even medieval-like, that are home to societies different from these of our past. I like them! Matriarchy done right can make a good story, so can patriarchy, and everything in between. And I agree that the fact that most of the readers are female, including young girls that should read about other girls having fun – and agency – should influence modern writers. I argue for that!
Historical fiction is another matter. We should not put our thoughts in the minds of people two thousand years dead. To picture enlightened liberals around savages… might make us feel better when we compare ourselves to Trump (or Law & (In)Justice) voters, but it completely spoils my immersion.
Luckily, I did not need to be immersed here, only entertained. And I mostly was, so:
Final score: 6/10