Sunday, April 25, 2010

Time Raiders: The Avenger by P.C. Cast

Alexandra Patton has always been able to see ghosts, but never realized that not everyone could see them- until she was six, and the cops came to ask her about her missing next door neighbor and fellow classmate. She led them right to the body with a smile, not realizing that she shouldn't have known her classmate was dead or where his body was, and earned the distaste and distrust of her own family who saw her as a freak for what she could do.

To escape, she joined the military, but the freedom to get away from those who knew her secret lost its polish when she realized just how much she hated taking orders. And the military- especially the air force, is all about taking orders. As soon as she could, she started taking courses in biology, and when she came to the end of her enlistment, she didn't re-up but took a job as a wilderness guide on the Tallgrass Prairie in Oklahoma.

Before she left the military, she made a friend named Tessa, and heard about a project to go back in time. But Alex viewed it as all just hogwash and dreams. She certainly doesn't want to get drawn into it or hear about it, so when Tessa gives her a call, she's glad to hear from her friend, but she doesn't want to hear about the Time Raiders project or how they need her skills. Not even when the doctor in charge pleads with Alex.

But two disturbing dreams send her to the Time Raider's base, where they tell her that the man calling out to her in her dreams is tied into her soul, and show her a blue almost S-shaped symbol from the man in her dream. They tell her that they are trying to reconstruct an amulet wanted by an alien race named the Centaurians, and that two pieces are in the past. She wants to see Tessa while she is at the base, but Tessa isn't there, she's returned to the time she was sent to- and the alien man she fell in love with. Not only is she in love, but she is pregnant.

Alex is sent to a time in the past when Queen Boudica ruled over the Iceni tribe. Alex will be passing herself off as a priestess from the Isle of Mona, which was burned by Suetonius, rescued by the Goddess Andraste. Not only will Alex appear in front of Boudica and her warriors, but she will have a rabbit, which is sacred to Andraste, and the rabbit will lead Boudica and her warriors to Londinium, where they will triumph over the Romans. A computer chip inserted into her head will enable her to understand and to speak in ancient Celtic.

So Alex jumps into the past, and does her part, and right away runs into trouble- for she isn't the only survivor of Mona. A druid named Caradoc also survived, and Alex knows she is sunk, but a female ghost standing by helps her out, telling her what to say to make Caradoc support her. But he knows she lies about being at Mona, and is curious about why she is telling these tales. His mother, the ghost who helped her. has prevailed on him enough that he wants to question her, and he calls her a Soul Speaker- one who can talk to the dead.

But if she truly is a Soul Speaker, she is horribly behind in her training. She doesn't know how to call the dead, nor how to reconnect her body to life after doing a summoning or blessing. The Druid, Caradoc, finds her beautiful and powerful, and his mother is vouching for her, and his mother used to be High Priestess of Andraste. So instead of denouncing her, he works with her and attempts to teach her how to master her abilities.

It conspires that Alex, or Blonwen as she is known in the past, is tied to the element of earth, while Caradoc is more strongly tied to water, and the God Condatus. But he is still grieving for his friends and colleagues who died at Mona- friends and colleagues who sacrificed themselves for him, because he is a Prince and next in line to inherit the mantle of Chieftain of the Iceni tribe should Boudica die in battle. Alex attempts to give him comfort, comfort that turns into a kiss, until Caradoc lashes out at her, whereupon she withdraws, and he's ashamed of what he's done.

But he hasn't completely ruined his chances with her, because she's seen what he experienced in a dream, and she sympathizes with him. This brings them closer yet. And after Boudica's army fights, Alex must help comfort the wounded and call the goddess to let them pass on to the afterlife. When she is done, she goes into the woods to bathe, where Caradoc finds her. He commends her for knowing something of how to refresh and ground her soul. But he completes it by giving her mead to drink and stew to eat. She shares some of the truth with him, having told him she wouldn't lie to him, but couldn't share everything she knows.

But when she attempts to summon the soul of Catus without being adequately prepared, she is overwhelmed by the number of souls who have it in for Catus. Catus is the Roman merchant who had Boudica whipped, and her daughters raped and beaten. He also stole part of the amulet- the rest is on the Torc around Boudica's neck. But the appearance of so many angry ghosts breaks her spirit and she seeks shelter with Andraste.

Caradoc, on his return from speaking with Boudica, finds Blonwen/Alex collapsed, her spirit shattered. To save her, he must enter the realm of Andraste and retrieve the shattered parts of her spirit, tying them together, and meets three very different parts of her. But thanks to the incident, she does learn that Catus survived the fall of Londinium and fled the city, leaving his servant to die in his place. But the piece of the amulet has fallen into the hands of Suetonius, who is a Centaurian, and knows that the Amulet can defeat his people. Can Alex and Caradoc get the amulet piece back from the "Roman" General when Boudica is defeated, and will Caradoc stay with Alex when she goes home to her own time, or will he stay to be the leader of his people after Boudica is dead?

I happened upon this series by accident, but if this book is any indication. I would love to read the rest. This wasn't the first book in the series, but based on what I read, I would definitely enjoy reading the others. I didn't know the whole story of the Centaurians or why they were going to destroy or conquer the earth and how the amulet would prevent it- but it didn't really matter.

Because this is really a love story, and about a woman growing out of being frightened of her own abilities and into being able to accept herself as she is, with the love of a good man. But Caradoc isn't presented as being some angelic being who remakes Alexandra into a whole woman, but a flawed man who is helped by her as much as he helps her.

I loved the historical underpinnings of the book. Most readers will be familliar with Boudica, and perhaps why she rode for revenge against the Romans, but she's no icon- she's a strong human woman, concerned for her daughters and the trauma they suffered during their rape at the hands of Catus' men. And they do figure fairly prominently in the story. Often, Alex and Caradoc are asked to watch over them and keep them safe when Boudica is off fighting battles. And the younger no longer believes in the Goddess, due to what she suffered- Alex is primary in bringing back her faith.

I loved this book, enough to want to seek out and read the rest of the series, which are not all by P.C. Cast. I've always loved P.C. Cast's writing, and this is just more of it. There is less laughter in this than in her "Goddess" series, but it's still a good, solid book, and I do recommend it highly.

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