In the middle of this past summer, I was in a huge rut. I was depressed, feeling raw and emotional, and I couldn’t write to save my life. When I tried to either read or watch television or movies, I would get this weird sense of anxiety whenever anything dark or violent happened. Which is tough, because most of the stuff I’ve read and watched over the years tended to be, well, dark and violent. And the same goes for my writing. With the weightiness of real life coming down on me, I just didn’t have the stomach for it.
All of which left me longing for some way to escape. I thought of the last time I’d felt like this—way back in 2001—and remembered how, through happenstance, I’d picked up Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” at an airport bookseller. The feel of that book, the romance, and the depth of its world helped distract and heal me during a trying time when I was dealing with not only the fallout of a divorce, but the innate terror that came with the September 11th attacks. I decided, right then and there, that I needed that sort of escape again.
I’ve been lucky enough over the years to be involved in a sort of support group of fellow authors, and among those included in this group is Sarah Woodbury. I’d been aware of her for years—a given as we’re in the same group—but I’d never even given consideration to her work. But seeing as she writes time travel fiction that seemed to me to be quite similar to Outlander, I decided to take a peek at the initial volume in her After Cilmeri series, a perma-free novel called “Daughter of Time.”
To say I was blown away by what I read would be an understatement. I devoured every word of “Daughter of Time”—a book that revolves around a modern young woman named Meg, her accidental transportation to the 13th century, and the beginning of her relationship with Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last prince of Wales—in less than two days. I fell in love with the pacing, the plot, the characters … absolutely everything about the book, I loved. So I immediately bought the next book in the series, “Footsteps in Time,” and away I went.
(Note to add that “Footsteps in Time” is actually the first book in the series; “Daughter of Time” was written as a prequel, after Woodbury’s fans expressed interest in how the whole saga started in the first place. Which makes anyone who comes into the series late the lucky ones, since the character work in “Daughter” is superb, and the information disclosed is quite helpful in understanding the narrative of later books.)
What impressed me most about these tomes was as much what they weren’t as what they were. I was expecting some Gabaldon-type time-travel romance when I first began, but as I read, I discovered that Woodbury’s books are only similar to “Outlander” in the way that the main characters find themselves displaced in time. (Well, actually, in another dimension, but let’s not split hairs.) Sure, the After Cilmeri books have their share of romantic themes, but they’re secondary to what I find to be series’ main points—to teach the readers some little-known facts about medieval Wales, and to act as a sort of exploratory thesis on the nature of leadership, the effectiveness of governing principals, the importance of history, and the virtue of integrity.
Each of these books are told from different viewpoints, alternating first person and third person narration with every other installment, which helps keep the tone fresh and immediate and, well, different. All the characters we meet, both from medieval Wales and the modern world—from Meg and Llywelyn to David and Anna and Callum and Bronwyn and Ieuan and Math and Lily—are complicated, flawed, driven, yet wholly decent people. I had no choice but to root for, and fall in love with, each and every one of them.
There’s an innocence to the narrative that I appreciated wholeheartedly, and a sort of hopeful optimism that some might call naïve drips off every word Woodbury writes. In the end, it was this optimism in the face of some rather harrowing events (war is a near constant threat in this series, as are kidnappings, betrayals, assassinations, and familial discord) that caused me to devour all fifteen books of the series in the span of about forty-five days.
To say I adore Woodbury's work would be an understatement. After Cilmeri might be my favorite series ever written, bar none. It’s almost like I got to grow along with the author, as some of the earlier books in the series display the telltale flaws of a young writer, one who grows and improves and perfects her craft with each published work. In the end, I found it to be my own version of literary nirvana—a series of comfortable yet intellectually challenging reads that not only wholly entertained me, but had me analyzing my own craft, wondering what, if anything, I can do to honor these novels, and their message, in my own published works to come.
I can honestly say that Sarah Woodbury and After Cilmeri has rescued my own creativity. While my writing isn’t coming as quickly today as it has in the past, the words are indeed coming, and that is due in large part to what one particular author had to say, and how she chose to say it. So thank you, Sarah, for the wonderfulness you’ve given the world. You have a fan for life in me, and for however long you decide to further explore the lives and adventures of King Daffyd and his merry crew, this one man will be right there to go on the journey with you, wherever you choose to take them, whenever those words arrive.
If you want to explore the awesomeness that is Sarah Woodbury’s works, you can see write-ups on each installment, as well as links to various outlets, at this link: http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/the-after-cilmeri-series/
Go. Read. Enjoy. I did. You will too.