White Mare’s Daughter is technically a historical novel, but I find it hard to classify it as such. This takes place way back in prehistory, around 4500 BCE or so, featuring a pair of cultures that it is impossible to know much about. Moreover, Tarr uses a contentious interpretation, and then takes a fair amount of artistic license to build her societies. Moreover, the world is drawn in broad enough strokes that it is hard to get a grasp on, and I never got more than the vaguest notions of the landscape and geography.

So, it took me a while to get into the book. It started slow, and trades between three viewpoint characters, which helped keep the action slow as they all got established. Ironically, Danu was the one who really started to get the book moving for me, and his viewpoint nearly disappears late in the book. Once going, however, it drew me in and kept me going with a very well structured plot.

The central piece of the novel is the Goddess-worshiping culture of the settled cities, with it’s entirely female-dominated society. Much of the book revolves around the culture shock of them meeting the entirely patriarchal steppe nomads, and demonstrating the differences between them (and giving us an anchor into this society). Much of it is fine, and the archaeological record does show that they seemed to have no knowledge of war, it is presented as too much of a utopia to fully hang together. Violence is nearly unknown (though not completely), though there are still some personal conflicts; the presentation would not be off as how a society views itself (…which it effectively is at first).

As appropriate for an early period, there is a lot of spiritualism inherent in the characters, which reminds me strongly of how Mary Renault depicted Theseus’ inner workings in The King Must Die. It’s very well done, and in conjunction with the overriding ‘end of an era’ theme of the book, really lends a mythic feel to what is otherwise a fairly straightforward plot.

This also is a source of my resistance to classifying it just as a historical novel, though I have no real reason not to. I also classify it as a very good one, though again, it does take a while to get started.