Ace Books / 310 pages / November 1999
Oh, how primitive and superstitious people were in the 10th century! Just because a calendar was about to roll over, they thought the world was going to end, that horrors awaited them on the opposite side of that midnight. Can’t we all be proud how much more rational and sensible we are now? You haven’t heard any prophets of doom taking advantage of the turn of the Millennium to put a jolt of fear into the populace, now have you?
All right, technology rolls on and we all feel so superior to our ancestors, but people never truly change.
In the midst of all this Millennium hysteria, Jadrien Bell has had the foresight to step back and wonder what consequences the first rollover had for the people facing the 11th century. With exhaustive research and a confident way with words, Bell has brought this time vividly to life in A.D. 999 — a chiller of a fantasy.
And, there is a special bonus in this historical fantasy: for those of us who have ever snickered over the name Ethelred the Unready, prepare to find out exactly how “unready” the boy king really was.
Almost no one is actually ready for the events about to unfold in the year 999 A.D. Satan has his plans laid out and is eagerly awaiting the end. He has even set himself up comfortably as Ethelred’s trusted advisor. Of course, he isn’t going to get his own hands dirty; he’s enlisted the help of Loki, the Trickster, and his malicious offspring.
That would be an imposing enemy for any army to battle, but there is no army fighting on the side of good. “Our” champions are a young monk and a pagan witch-wife. The scales are tipped heavily against the good guys, and things are just getting more grim with every passing moment.
Don’t count the strange duo out, yet. If courage and compassion count for anything, they may find themselves with a slight edge. Bell has created one of the toughest heroines in fiction, with a heart forged of equal parts fire and compassion. Kennag is a woman with characteristics many people could profit from incorporating into their own personalities.
In Alwyn, Bell produces perhaps the first truly human and spiritual clergyman in recent memory. Also, one of the most endearing in all of fiction. Even a monk feels passion and despair, but a man who remembers he is only that can accomplish more than a legion of soldiers.
Perhaps that is the secret to Bell’s compelling narrative: recognition of the light and dark parts of our natures is the key to achieving what we must. God and human, we are what we are, and understanding that gives us a strength unparalleled.
Will the world come crashing down into ruin? Will evil run rampant on the Earth? Even knowing your history is not going to protect you from the threat of darkness Bell has prepared. It is a tense race to the end, with the fate of mankind in the balance.