The novel takes place around 2000 B.C. and most of the story events surround the construction of Stonehenge. In this sense, it was a lot like The Pillars of the Earth – except with Bronze Age characters. And like The Pillars of the Earth, the characters drive this story, which concerns the three sons of Hengall, a tribal chieftain. Lengar, the eldest son, is a ruthless warrior who wants to bring war against the tribe’s enemies. Camaban, the middle son, is an outcast and a sorcerer who speaks to the gods and is determined to build a temple that will change the world. While Saban, the youngest son and the story’s protagonist, longs for peace.
After Lengar kills his father to become chief of the tribe, a tale of jealousy, betrayal, and murder ensues. Camaban believes that only the construction of a great temple to the sun god can save the land, and he’s convinced that Saban must build it. Over time, the brothers encounter two strong female characters, Derrewyn and Aurenna, whose actions, much like those of Nimue and Guinevere in The Warlord Chronicles, will determine the fate of men.
The drama plays out amid the madness of primitive religion, with its sex rites and human sacrifice. The latter is quite disturbing, both to the reader and to Saban, but this theme of violence in the name of religion is one of the book’s most thought-provoking elements. While I prefer Cornwell’s novels set in the Middle Ages, I am glad I ventured back a few thousand years and explored Stonehenge.