My dear bookish friends!
Today I have for you a very special review of a book that transported me a few years back to a time of my studies of the history of Britain. I was very impressed by the author’s tale and I would love for all my friends who are interested in history to pick this book up, because it’s really worth it! Read on for the synopsis and my detailed review!
Big thank you to the author Paula de Fougerolles and Dave at TheWriteReads for my spot on this tour!
The Chronicles of Iona: Exile tells the story of the Irish monk and Scottish warrior, Saint Columba and Aedan mac Gabran, who would band together to lay the foundation of the nation of Scotland. They were a real-life 6th-century Merlin and King Arthur and their story has never been told.
The book begins in 563 A.D. The Roman Empire is long gone, freeing the region of Scotland from the threat of imperial rule but opening it to chaos from warring tribes vying for control. Columba, a powerful abbot-prince, is exiled from Ireland to the pagan colony of Dal Riata on Scotland’s west coast for an act of violence. There he encounters Aedan, the down-and-out second son of the colony’s former king, slain by the Picts.
Together, this unlikely pair travels the breadth of a divided realm, each in search of his own kind of unity. Their path is fraught with blood feuds, lost love, treachery, dark gods and monsters, but also with miracles and valor. Beset on all sides, their only hope is to become allies—and to forge a daring alliance with the pagan Picts.
How Columba overcame exile and a crisis of faith to found the famous monastery of Iona (one of the greatest centers of learning in Dark Age Europe) and, from it, the Celtic Church in the British Isles; and how Aedan avenged his father’s death and became, against all odds, the progenitor of Scottish kings and the greatest warlord of his age, begins here.
For both, what begins as a personal imperative becomes a series of events that lead to the foundation of Iona and the kingdom of Scotland—events that literally change the world.
The blurb sums up the story perfectly, so I don’t want to give much more away on that. Reading The Chronicles of Iona was a very special time. It made me feel like I’m back to my university class on Old English and the history of the island and its language(s). Even back then I was absolutely fascinated by what I learned. Paula de Fougerolles created a story that made it fun to learn more, to link historical figures with true events and she was effortlessly weaving historical facts with her own imagination – something I enjoyed immensely.
I loved to see the past through the eyes of actual historical figures. It was great to find them not only on battlefields (even though undoubtedly, much of that took part there), but to also read about their everyday lives. One of the figures we follow is St. Columba, the first missionary in the Scottish Highlands. Exiled from Ireland for murder of the king’s counselor, his aim is to settle down on the Isle of Iona. Columba befriends Aedan Mac Givran, who becomes Columba’s advisor. The first settlement on Himba turns out to be unsafe for Columba and his monks, where the Picts can get to them to easily.
It was very interesting to read about such a time – I mean we are talking the 6th century A.D. here, a period which hardly ever gets talked about in fiction. We read about arduous journeys, pagan sacrifices, early missionary work, ruthless fights, big fortresses and scary battlefields, great warlords but also compassionate people, and even the Loch Ness monster is mentioned (which I’m a huge fan of lol). It becomes clear early on that the author has done tremendous research on this time period, and I loved the insight in original sources we got too.
If I had to name any negatives I’d have to say the writing and storytelling don’t really offer any. It’s just this book isn’t your usual Saturday evening down-time read; it needs your focus, for you to really absorb what you’re reading and not let your thoughts get distracted. But I feel like for those who pick up this book, they know what they are in for and are actively searching for that, so it’s not really a problem. It might not be for everyone – but, let’s be frank – which book is? I, for my part, really liked it.
This is the perfect book for everyone who is interested in the early settlement period in Britain, for all those who love stories of King Alfred and the invasion of the Norsemen, and for all those who like to read up on historical events in the early, for us so dimly lit time periods. The dramatic narrative mixes well with the story of the quest for power, for meaning, for beliefs, but also the accurate historical context, and the enlightening of a time we know so little about.
Something I loved most about the characters was that they are depicted as they really were: real people with strenghts and weaknesses, dreams and doubts, hopes and fears. Oh, and also! Fans of maps will be very happy with this book! I was fascinated with them and spent a long time studying them, tracing the lines of the journey I had just read about.
4.5 stars for this incredible historical tale.
Thank you all so much for reading!
About the Author
Paula de Fougerolles has a doctorate from the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, University of Cambridge, and has taught and published in the field. She has lived and traveled extensively throughout Scotland and Ireland, including a prestigious year-long Thomas J. Watson Fellowship in which she criss-crossed Europe in search of the physical remains of the so-called Dark Ages–research which ultimately led to this award-winning historical fiction series. To learn more, visit www.pauladefougerolles.com.