Eleri Gwir, a Briton chieftain’s daughter, is sitting in a monastery, writing her history. She’s an old woman now, but she’s remembering her life when she was much younger, beginning when she returned from voluntary exile after the death of her father, her great love, and her people in a battle against Saxon invaders. She’s returning to the kingdom called Dyfneint, what today is called Devon. It’s 578 A.D., a year after the devastating Battle of Dyrham.
Eleri is not only a chieftain’s daughter; she’s also a healer, someone in great demand in a perilous time of almost ongoing warfare. She knows the current king, Kadwy, and many of his officers and warriors. Kadwy is relatively young, as yet untested in battle, and he occupies a palace and a land full of intrigue and treachery. Eleri befriends Eilineth, a girl of 12 savagely disfigured by invaders or bandits, which are often interchangeable descriptions. And she befriends Morlais, a stable boy who’s a natural storyteller.
The three soon find themselves involved in a planned deception by Kadwy, capture by the Saxons, and a daring escape. And a new battle looms, a battle that may mean final defeat for the Britons.
Iron Island by Gareth Griffith is the sequel to Glass Island, the thrilling fictional account of the Battle of Dyrham. Griffith has a gift for describing battles and battle scenes, and both books place the reader squarely in the thick of the action. Eleri Gwir is the heroine at the center of the story, and Griffith draws a character who both understands the expectations for women in the period and resists conforming to those expectations. And Eleri threads her way through the story, telling a gripping account of the times, herself, her friends, and her enemies.
Griffith was born in Wales and moved to Australia. He’s been a teacher, researcher, and writer, and served as the director of research for the parliament of New South Wales for many years. He’s now focused on writing about Wales and the Dark Ages.
Iron Island is historical fiction, but it rests on what is clearly extensive research by the author. The reader experiences the smells of the kitchens as much as the smells of battle. The story sits within from what is known of this period of British history, with its remnants of the fumes of Roman occupation, unknown tribes arriving and raging over the land, banditry, the growing presence of the Saxons, and the Britons desperately trying to defend what they have left. It’s a well-told and stirring story.