"Magnificient saga of ancient lore!"
Susan Squires is a puzzler to try and shoebox. But somehow,
I think she enjoys people being unable to neatly label her
and put her in pigeonhole.
Her first novel was a powerhouse debut. DANEGELD dealt with
a period in Britain's history generally ignored (last one I
can recall was Johanna Lynsay in her Medieval Trilogy and
that was a long time ago!). It was grimly realistic,
provoking - possibly too grim and provoking for more timid
readers. Squires meets the ugly realities of that period
head on, does not flinch or back off just to make it easier
on the reader. I am glad to see savvy Dorchester Publishing
giving her 'elbow room' and backing her bold prose.
Her second, SACRAMENT gave us a thinking woman's vampire
tale. Not dwelling on the vampire aspect of the story, she
provoked - I often wonder if provoke is not Squire's middle
name - you into looking at good and evil - not of the
vampire, but of desires of the individuals, those acted
upon and those repressed, and the choices those desire can
drive one to make. Many bemoaned this was not a traditional
vampire tale, to which Squires quite blithely thanked you.
Her third work, BODY ELECTRIC, pushed all the boundaries
and was a brilliantly conceive bit of Michael Crichton
techno- thriller. Sometimes, you might not LIKE what
Squires is doing in her books, but she never fails to
PROVOKE you, challenge you, to make you think.
Squires comes full circle, returning to that dark period in
British History - and WOW - her fourth novel, DANELAW hits
bull's-eye. This is not a sequel to DANEGELD, so do not buy
it with that impression.
DANELAW stands on it on and it is Squires' best work. Rich
in lore of the British Isles and the Dane invaders during
the period of Alfred, Squires delivers a powerful tale of
Epona "Pony", the last of her kind, a horsewhisper who
lives below the great chalk horse on the Downs. She little
knows she is a priestess to the Cult of Epona, the Scots
Horse Goddess of War, but the fame of the Goddess Epona was
spread far and wide. Called 'Mare' (MAH-ray) by the Irish
of Dalriada, the Goddess was the bringer of dreams - good
and bad. The English word "nightmare" is derived from her
Irish name. The Goddess was even adopted by the conquering
Romans whose cavalry called upon her to aid them before a
charge. She was the only Celtic deity enshrined and
worshipped in Rome. To the Saxon Alfred, the man who would
unite Britain after the Roman withdrawal and reclaim
Danelaw (nearly a 1/3 of England) from the Danes, Epona was
called Horsa. Whatever the name, he saw the power of using
Pony to achieve his destiny.
Pony is a smart lass, though often naive, and sees her role
a simple one...to fulfill her destiny to produce the next
girl child to live under the chalk horse on the Downs, to
continue the line. Though unworldly, she realized when
Alfred appears on her doorstep he means to use her. In her
shrewdness, she uses him to give her the child.
Only, the Viking plunders come, and Pony's finds there is
more to fulfilling a prophecy than conceiving a child. The
pawn of Valgar, the Dane leader, she expects barbarians who
would take her prison and try to steal her herd of magical
horses. Instead, she finds a man of wisdom, fire, and
And he knows the way of the Horse. A man who could steal
Squires gives us a rousing Saga of one woman set on filling
her destiny, caught between the clash of Saxon and Viking
cultures, and two equally determined men, each bent on
making a kingdom in Britain. Her characters are vivid, well
drawn, the research impressive. I have dealt with this
history & lore for decades, even wrote an award winning
series of essays on Epona being the mother-face of the
triple goddess, linking her with Elphame and the Cailleach.
Squires impressed me with her dealing with the period and
the legend of Epona as few writers could.
I simply could not put this book down.
Posted March 28, 2003
Reviewed by Deborah Macgillivray
Posted January 3, 2007