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The Pict Paperback – November 20, 2009
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Before Braveheart there was Calach!
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Jack Dixon has done an impressive job of writing an historical fiction piece that is highly readable, action filled, and evocative. The book begins with the background story of the Picts, a mysterious people who lived in what is today Scotland. From the distant mists of the past they come fleeing the barbaric hordes from Eastern Europe, which invade ancient Scythia, homeland of the Picts. They make their way across the North Sea, to the British Isles, are befriended by the Scoti of Ireland and settle in the highlands in the north of Brittania.
The book's hero, Calach, leads his people in a heroic David versus Goliath campaign against the invading Romans, with the love of his life, Fiona, at his side. The battle scenes are powerfully drawn. I would rate them R; this is not a book for children under fourteen. Mr. Dixon creates plenty of righteous outrage at the depredations of the Romans against defenseless Pict villagers, which impels his hero to wage merciless war against the invaders.
There is romance, though it is secondary to the primary action, the life and death struggle against the mighty Roman Empire. The last half of the book truly is a page turner, with enough surprises along the way to keep the book from being totally formulaic. I believe anyone who enjoys ancient history should find this an interesting, informative and entertaining work. Congratulations to Mr. Dixon on a fine first novel.
--This text refers to the Kindle Edition edition.
From the Back Cover
Calach stood. His anger was surfacing, and he felt suddenly seized by the demons he had been struggling to contain. Sioltach stared at Calach in admiration as he quickly translated his words.
"Why have you lost one legion, soon to be followed by another? Look, and see! Your soldiers are wide-eyed Roman lads, fighting beside non-Romans who were your enemies longer than they have been your slaves. They are bewildered by a strange and frightening land. They are bound to you not by loyalty, but by fear, and when their fear ends, only hatred will remain.
"For all of your pomp, you have none of what inspires men to victory. Your soldiers fight for nothing but the glory of an empire that has crushed their own nations and tribes. They have no wives to inspire them, and no parents to mock them should they shrink from battle. They have no country, or if they do it is not Rome, and it is in ruins."
Agricola paled. He was certain that he would die at the hands of this man whose spirit he could not comprehend.
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This book not only expressed who they may have been, where they may have come from, and how they might have lived -- it also showed how they may have differed, from a belief and ethics standpoint, from other cultures of the time. I think he came to the same hypotheses that I have but expressed them more concisely than I was able, for which I am very grateful.
The Pict is the story of Callach, a great leader of the tribes that successfully repelled the Roman Empire when no others could. Including the Caledonii, the Picts were highlanders in the part of Britain that would come to be called Scotland. Callach and his loose confederation of Pictish warriors, which included both men and women, were so fierce and unconquerable that the Romans gave up and built Hadrian's Wall to keep them hemmed in, rather than, as they did with all other people, to assimilate them.
Dixon succeeded in appealing to my own love for realistic but suggestively magical interpretations of legendary heroes, like Morgan Llywelyyn's Red Branch and Finn MacCool. He frames the Pictish hero's life in terms of his reincarnation from the ancient hero of the Picts who led them from the Steppes and across the water to their new home. Just as the ancient hero anguished that he hasd not achieved true nobility, so does Callach. Leading the tribes to resist the rampaging Roman army, he is overtaken by a need for revenge for the death of his warrior wife and his outrage at the betrayal of a former ally. Noble or not, Callach succeeds to drive the Romans away through a combination of his clever strategies and absolute commitment to the freedom he and his countrymen so value.
Dixon's prose is compelling while being at the same time solid and unromantic. He advises the reader in his Author's Note that little is known of the real Callach, the only references to him being by Tacitus, the son-in-law of the Roman general he so thoroughly ruined. Dixon has taken a time and a legend and blended them so well that it is hard to imagine the world of the Picts being anything other than he illustrates.
Simply having covered so rarely touched on an era makes this book valuable, but the sensitivity and insight and the sheer skill of bringing it to life, makes this novel a must read.
I read this book on my Kindle 2. It is also available in paperback.
It is obvious that Rome's greatest enemy is really Calach, the elected general of the Picts. There was a reason the Roman's built two walls, the Wall of Antoninus and Hadrian's Wall to keep the Picts out of Britannia. The fierce tattooed warriors, who fought like Apaches but reminded me of that army of the dead from Tolkien's Return of the King, were almost invincible as if those dreaded tattoos embodied these canny, fearless warriors with magical powers that struck fear into the soon to be dismembered hearts of Rome's Ninth Legion. "With a start, Felix realized the sound in his dreams had been real. It was a solemn, mournful moan. It grew louder and seemed to be coming closer to the camp. But then, just as it seemed upon him, it suddenly stopped.... The sounds were eerie, as if the voices of ghosts or demons, threatening. Like Felix, Lucius lay silent and still, with the same fear pounding in his chest."
Although the first chapter should have been a prelude and the story really gets going with chapter two, once I reached page nine, I was hooked and read relentlessly to find out what was going to happen to Dixon's bigger than life characters. If you enjoy the books written by Valeria Massimo Manfredi, Steven Pressfield, Bernard Cornwell and Michael Curtis Ford, you will enjoy The Pict. The only complaint I have is that The Pict ended to soon. I wanted more.