Herley, Richard: The Stone Arrow
The Stone Arrow by Richard Herley (The Pagans Trilogy Vol.1). Review by carandol
I don't quite know how I managed to miss this book when it was first published in 1978; it's just the sort of stuff I loved in my late teens, and still have a soft spot for even now, when perhaps I should know better.
The first in a trilogy, and Richard Herley's first novel, it tells the story of Tagart, last survivor of a nomadic tribe living in the south of England in neolithic times, whose family and friends have been wiped out by the local farmers. Tagart, with nothing else to live for, decides it is his duty to destroy the village, one of the increasing number of agricultural settlements which are clearing woodland and restricting the movements of nomadic peoples in this period.
What follows is a somewhat bloodthirsty series of encounters between Tagart and the villagers, who increasingly see the nomad as Tsoaul, the spirit of the forest, who they feel they have angered. But just at the point when you're starting to think all this ingenious killing is getting a bit much (I mean, you can't help feeling for his loss, but there are limits!) the plot takes a twist when Tagart is captured by slavers and dragged off to Valdoe, where the leader known as the Flint Lord rules over a huge slave colony which mines flint and trades it all across the south of England. More adventure ensues and the book gallops through a series of tense encounters that keep you turning the pages (or clicking the iLiad page bar in my case) to the end.
Herley has a good feel for the natural world in his descriptions of the landscape and its flora and fauna. I'm not qualified to comment on the authenticity of his neolithic culture and technology, but it certainly came across convincingly. The author also seems to be worryingly knowledgeable about home-made man-traps; I'll certainly not be wandering about his garden in the dark!
There were a few little niggles; one was his tendency to use scientific terms (such as the hunting dogs being able to sniff out the molecules of their quarry) which occasionally jolted me out of the neolithic setting. And then there was the hunting hawk with bells on it jesses; I couldn't help wondering what the bells were made of in a society whose main manufacturing materials were stone, clay, wood and bone. But those are minor points, and it is a first novel.
All in all an enjoyable and believable adventure in a small corner of prehistoric England, and winner of the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize for the best regional novel of 1978.
Interestingly, the author is re-publishing this, and the rest of his novels as “shareware”; if you like the book, he suggests you give him the princely sum of 85p, which seems fair enough to me, and ought to be encouraged.
The other two books in the trilogy are The Flint Lord and The Earth Goddess.
 For more information
MS Word and Plain Text from the author's website: http://www.richardherley.com/downloads.html
Various e-book formats from Feedbooks: http://www.feedbooks.com/discover/book/2261