Valley of the Shadow by Peter Tremayne
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Quick, ladies, name three male authors who can write convincingly from a woman's viewpoint. Gentlemen, feel free to vote all you wish, but your votes won't be counted for this unofficial poll.
Stumped? Me, too. And Peter Tremayne with his emotionless, sexless Sister Fidelma certainly doesn't deserve a place on the list. In fact, the viewpoint in Valley of the Shadow wanders erratically between the Irish nun, her besotted Saxon priest sidekick, secondary characters and even the random goat on the hillside, making it nigh unto impossible to develop a bond with any of them. Except, maybe, the goat.
In A.D. 666 -- pun intended, no doubt -- Fidelma travels to the secluded Gleann Geis at her brother the king's bequest to negotiate the establishment of a Christian church in this notorious Druidic and vigorously anti-Christian stronghold. Near the end of the journey, she and her companion discover the grisly remains of 33 monks, slaughtered identically and arranged in a circle like points on a sundial. The whys and wherefores of this ritualistic murder, interpreted as a particularly nasty "Christian, go home" statement, consume Fidelma's energies for the remainder of the book.
Never mind the fact that the deeply spiritual Celts embraced Christianity because its evangelists, like Patrick and Columba, cleverly assimilated the tenets of older religions rather than coming into conflict with them. Never mind the fact that, by the 7th century, Druidic philosophy lived only in folk memory, as in the phrase "knock on wood" and the practice of kissing under mistletoe. Despite heavy reliance upon these common misconceptions, Valley of the Shadow promises an exciting setup but delivers a frightfully boring resolution.
Sorry, Fidelma fans, but any novel wherein the major plot point in the first half of the book is the sidekick's hangover holds no interest for me. By the time anything serious befalls Our Heroes (about two-thirds of the way into the story) I ceased to care about their fates. I do give Tremayne a point for not falling into the "all Christians are evil, all non-Christians are good" trap, or its converse -- although this book does contain a few irritating religious caricatures.
In case you simply must rush out and buy this one to complete your set, I won't divulge any spoilers. But I do strongly advise that you save your hard-won cash and wait for the inevitable paperback release.
(Originally published in Crescent Blues. Reprinted with permission.)
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