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Long ago, I found this book, quite by chance, on a remainder table in a local bookstore. I had never heard of the book or the author, although apparently, as I learned later, Campbell and her books had some fame at one time -- there had even been some talk of a movie. How The Dark Twin faded after that into such obscurity is a mystery. The setting is bronze age Scotland, approximately 500 BC. Drost is the son of the priestess Malda, and he was conceived during the spring fertility rituals. He doesnt know who his father is, and at first the question doesnt trouble him. He spends his early childhood with his mother in the hearth house. There, Malda tends the holy fire and instructs the young girls of the tribe, and it is there that Drost catches glimpses of the feminine mysteries. As a result, when he is thrust into the company of the men later, he has a unique viewpoint on the “sickness” of his people, which has set the men against the women and the old matriarchal religion.The Men of the Boar believe that the burden of kingship is too great for one man to bear. For this reason, it is traditionally divided between two men:the King, who is the war-leader and ruler, and a “Dark Twin” who acts as his companion and adviser (and who will rule the tribe alone if the King dies before his heir comes of age). This bond, no matter how it may chafe, is unbreakable; the two are joined for life. When Drost is chosen to be the Twin of the young prince Ailill, he is abruptly taken from his peaceful life among the women, and introduced to the harsher male cult and the New Way. After a long, cruel period of initiation, Drost and Ailill are sent to live in a fort with other teenage boys, as the next step in their journey toward manhood. Life there is freer and wilder ... and more dangerous. In this way the young men of the tribe are expected to forge life-long friendships that strengthen the tribe as a whole. Unfortunately, there is no friendship between Drost and Ailill. Instead, there is an instinctive dislike between the two boys, made worse by Ailills determination to see Drost not as a companion but as a rival. Gradually, Drost uncovers a history of murder, lust, jealousy, and betrayal involving their two families, which is at the heart of the sickness in the tribe. “This book,” Campbell reveals in an authors note at the end of the novel,” evolved at a time of deep anxiety and physical exhaustion, out of a series of brief waking dreams ... The name ‘Yssa’ came out of the blue; I began to wonder (correctly, as I found later) whether I was dealing with a primitive version of Tristan and Isolde.” Yet Campbell’s Tristan (she calls him ‘Drost’) doesn’t meet his Yssa until late in the book, their time together is brief, and the love story plays a very small role in the plot. It doesnt really matter. Drost’s own story is more than compelling enough.Campbell brings this bronze age world vividly to life with simple but evocative prose, reminiscent of Mary Renaults excellent historical novels. Campbell was a respected archeologist, and her knowledge of the period provides a sense of authenticity, though she also draws on myths, legends, and ancient rituals, as well as a great deal of informed extrapolation.But it is the story that is important, and it does not disappoint. Told in first person viewpoint, we must trust that what Drost tells us is true. Fortunately he apprears to be a reliable narrator and keen observer, as he unravels the riddle of his own begetting, and uncovers the darkest secrets of his tribe. There are other characters brought sharply and dramatically to life: the sly priest Talorc; the bard Felim, who effortlessly manages to keep a foot in both camps; the enigmatic elder priestess known only as the Old One, doomed to a life of wandering; and the noble Melduin, whose unnamed sacrifice (possibly a ritual wounding) brought a tragic end to his love affair with Malda. While there is no overt magic -- no wizards or fantasy creatures -- the story reflects a world view that sees supernatural forces at work in everything. As Drosts history becomes more and more absorbing, the reader will believe too ... at least while the story lasts.

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