The Hallowed is set during the siege of Arelate (now Arles in France’s Rhone Valley) in the year 411 A.D. Holed up in the city is the Roman co-emperor Constantine III and his army of Goths and Franks, while the army of his besieger and former general Gerontius waits outside. Meanwhile, supplies are running short within the walls, and religious strife between the Arians and Catholics threatens whatever peace remains in Arelate. Given this set up, it’s not immediately clear how this book concerns the destiny of King Arthur until we’re introduced to Constantine’s nephew, Julian, a seventeen-year-old prince who has strange dreams about his British homeland and a spirit who is haunting him—a sorcerer named Merlin.
It’s soon revealed that Julian is “Hallowed,” meaning he possesses ancient druidic powers that allow him to open doorways between this world and the Otherworld. Merlin is one of the spirits pulled through this doorway—and it’s a doorway that goes both ways—leading to a number of dream scenes where Julian’s spirit stands alongside Merlin during another siege involving a young prince Arthur and the hostile King Lot.
|The Merlin of The Hallowed is nothing like this ancient chap!|
These dream sequences are just a small part of the story, however. The central focus is on the siege of Arelate, Julian’s relationship with his uncle Constantine, and Julian’s struggle to understand his strange new powers amid the growing threat the city will fall. Constantine turned out to be my favorite character; he’s a classic mentor and both a heroic and tragic historical figure (he was High King of Britain before he became co-emperor, and his late wife held the title “Lady of the Lake,” so you can begin to see the Arthurian connection). Fortunately, the author gives us a number of scenes narrated by Constantine about his rise to power and his relationship with Gerontius, one of the story’s central antagonists and the man who would betray him. As a history buff, I really enjoyed these.
|Roman ruins in Arles*|
In addition to Constantine, two other characters are worth mentioning. The first is a Catholic monk named Hugo (and, I’ll confess, I’ve always been fond of monks). Not only does he help illustrate the religious strife of the times, but he also proves to be a courageous sidekick for Julian. The second is Guntilde, a Frankish warrior and the woman Julian has secretly loved since they were children. She’s also married to another Frank, so her relationship with Julian is a bit complicated, but the novel is richer for it.
The various connections between Julian and Merlin, as well as early Fifth Century Rome and late Fifth Century Britain, are not fully revealed until the novel’s end. While a few parts were predictable, much of the ending was not, and it turned out to be more spiritual and thought-provoking than I expected. In all, The Hallowed is a well-written and well-crafted tale, with ample drama, lots of tension, and many tender moments between its characters in between. I have no idea where the next novel in this series will go, but I’ll definitely be along for the ride!
Lastly, for those who want to read more about Constantine III, author L. Marrick is offering a series called Usurper (a name by which Constantine was known) for free on her website lmarrickfiction.com. You can read it here.
* Photo courtesy of Craig Patik, Creative Commons attribution