Into the Path of the Gods, by Kathleen Cunningham Guler, Bardsong Press, Steamboat Springs, Colorado, $22.95, hardback.
If you liked King Arthur’s Britain, the March instalment of our Britain’s Historic Landscape series, and you’re honest enough to admit that you secretly revel in the pleasure of a good romance, you will certainly enjoy Into the Path of the Gods by Kathleen Cunningham Guler.
Since I can enthusiastically answer in the affirmative to both questions, I’m not ashamed to say that I enjoyed the book tremendously. The plot is fairly simple: During the turbulent time when rival factions struggle for power in 5th-century Wales, a young girl, Claerwen, flees her home before she is forced to marry a brutal, traitorous man. Soon she meets her true love, Marcus ap Iowerth, a spy and prince-in-disguise, who helps her to discover the truth about her past and the mysterious powers she commands. The two eventually wed and work together as a team to regain control of Marcus’ fort of Dinas Beris from the barbarian invaders.
The plot, although slightly predictable, is engaging. Guler’s descriptions of both the ancient Welsh landscape and the culture of her characters are informative without being overly descriptive. I was not at all bothered by the book’s requisite love scenes, however some readers might find them to be gratuitous. Those paragraphs are easy to skip over.
To allay any initial hesitancy about indulging in what many may consider to be a lowbrow pleasure, I recommend first consulting Guler’s Acknowledgements and Author’s Note, found at the back of the book. Here, she establishes her credibility by invoking the name of the indisputable expert on Arthurian lore and legend, Geoffrey Ashe. In expressing her gratitude, she states that Ashe’s ‘dedication to seeking the historical side of the Age of Arthur has . . . greatly enhanced the background of this book.’ Further, she mentions that she was able to meet the venerable Ashe and study Arthurian history with him during a tour of England and Wales.
In her Author’s Note, Guler goes on to provide some insight into her own approach to writing. ‘Dark Age Britain is one [of] the most difficult periods of history to interpret,’ she admits. She goes on to say that although a number of her characters are based on historical figures, her book ‘is fiction and should be taken as such.’ But Guler proves herself to be a historian at heart:
The further I delved into the historical side of the Age of Arthur, the broader the scope of this project became. . . . Over time I learned to recognize patterns in the Celtic culture of Dark Age Britain, enough to start asking questions that no one else had answered. I began posing my own theories, attempting to answer my own questions, possibly even to prove them.
This is what elevates Into the Path of the Gods above the level of the typical steamy grocery-store romance. Guler has definitely done her homework and produced an historically accurate piece of fiction that not only addresses the complex issues associated with pre-Arthurian Britain, but also attempts to answer them with her own fictionalized theories.
Best of all, the book retains the page-turning, all-absorbing, can’t-put-it-down thrill of the romance. Fortunately, Into the Path of the Gods is only the first in a series of four books. Guler is currently hard at work on the second novel, which will be ready none too soon for me.
Leigh Ann Berry