Italy. 760 AD (give or take a decade). The Dark Ages are in full swing, and for Strega Muirne, a follower of "the old ways", it is a dangerous time. Some in the Roman Catholic church have adopted a "Convert or Die" attitude, and she has been driven out of the city of Orvieto and into a cave.
But worse things are about to happen, and via an unexpected source.
What's To Like...
Strega Muirne is a novella, which means it would only be around 60-100 pages in length if it was in a printed book. That shortness doesn't allow for much character depth/development. The focus is on the core issue - how to stay true to your god(s) in the face of open persecution. This is nicely done - the black-hats aren't all on one side or the other (ditto for the white-hats), and the story moves at a nice clip.
The first half of the Strega Muirne is historical fiction. Paganism certainly existed back then, (the wiki link to Stegheria is here) and the Christian church was aggressively stamping out all rival religions. William Deen presents a plausible hypothesis - that 8th-Century stegheria is a holdover of the worshipping of the "classical" Roman gods and goddesses.
The second half veers into the supernatural, presumably setting the tone for the rest of the series. The ending is really nothing more than a teaser for the next novella, Stregone Alberich, which is as yet unpublished.
"I have dealt with your kind before. Your beliefs are of the Devil and I will see them destroyed!" In God's name he feared nothing and no one. Except in this case. The possibility a female conjurer was in league with the Devil frightened him. For a moment, his faith faltered. (3% Kindle)
"They provided no herbs, no medicine?" The ongoing discovery of the Christian ways and methods continued to confound Muirne. She struggled to understand their approach, or lack thereof, when providing care to the sick.
"No, Strega Muirne," the woman said.
Nothing! They offer nothing! A few prayers then they trace a cross in the air and walk away. (36% Kindle)
I got this as a free download, which was a limited-time offer at Amazon. It is now selling for $0.99. I don't think it's available thru any of my local libraries.
"How could we let these pompous bastards gain authority over us?" (15% Kindle)
I enjoyed the first half of the book, because I wanted to see how Mr. Deen would handle what is historically "the losing side" of this religious struggle. Three ways come to mind.
First, there is the noble vanquished route as Morgan Llywelyn took in her "Druid" duology (see here and here). Second, you can delve into Alternate History, a la S.M. Stirling or Harry Turtledove. And third, you can step into the horror genre, which of course is popular right now.
The latter appears to be the path chosen, but I personally don't read much Horror. Plus, I prefer novels to novellas. There's a wonderful setting in Strega Muirne, as well as a challenging and fascinating conflict to explore. Alas, I fear the inherent limitations of novellas (novellae?) will preclude the author from giving this the depth and complexity it deserves.
6 Stars. although you might rate it higher it you like the Undead stomping through the plotline.