Blurb from the first edition
Driven by the sinister forces of his own heritage, Brennis Gehan Fifth, Lord of Valdoe, is planning the genocide of the nomadic tribes who impede the spread of his empire in the land that was southern England of 5,000 years ago. With his army swelled by foreign mercenaries he prepares to march through the snows to annihilate the nomads’ retreat in their winter camp.
Word of the Lord of Valdoe’s intentions has already reached the nomads, but when their chieftain is killed in a hunting accident it seems his successor will not heed the warning. In all the tribes, only Tagart understands the danger and is strong enough to face the Flint Lord, but first he must win the strange battle for leadership, waged according to ancient and ruthless laws. The campaign that he then inspires is a superb story of desperate courage. This novel of intrigue, violence and betrayal in the land of our Stone Age forefathers is a magnificent successor to the author’s The Stone Arrow. Here, spurring the Flint Lord’s drive for conquest, is his passion for his beautiful, decadent sister, a drive and a passion which lead inexorably to catastrophic consequences.
After The Stone Arrow had been accepted, I was unsure how to proceed. The sequel was extremely hard to write. It is unusually violent and the deuteragonist (Brennis Gehan) was difficult to live with for so long.
However, when I came to revise the book for electronic publication I found it better than I remembered. I can praise it now because the fellow who wrote it (myself, aged 27-30) is no longer around. The shenanigans of the leadership contest among the nomads demand all the reader’s wits if he or she is to keep up; and I must say I was rather pleased with the logic of the siege. See if you agree!
Synopsis: October 1977
Final draft: August 1980
Editor at William Heinemann: Caroline Ball
First publication: June 1981
Revised for electronic publication: January 2008
Extent: 71,772 words
List of printed editions
Heinemann/Peter Davies, London, hardback, 1981
William Morrow, New York, hardback, 1985
Grafton, London, paperback, 1986 (omnibus edition of The Pagans)
Ballantine Books, New York, paperback, 1987
Reviews of paper-based editions
Richard Herley ... won wide critical acclaim and the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize for his first novel, The Stone Arrow, set in neolithic Sussex. Its successor is equally distinguished, a savage and breathtaking evocation, as gripping as any thriller, of an alien world.
... takes neolithic genocide, incest, helotry and weaponry in its fine imaginative stride ... the stark action and the snows and wolf-woods of a hostile landscape are powerful feats of description.
Herley is one of the best yarn-spinners in England today.
What is astonishing is that the animistic, ancient world, which to us exists merely in dusty flint arrow-tips or dried pieces of leather attached to bone fish hooks behind glass in museums, should be brought to such lusty and sometimes hideously painful life. It is sobering to realise that in 5,000 years men appear to have learned nothing but the ability to kill and maim with more sophistication.
A well researched and remarkable novel.
Herley writes with such panache that one soon feels at home in a world where blinding, boiling alive, flaying and disembowelling are the order of the day ...
Yet he is suggestive, rather than sadistic, and leaves so much to our imagination that it is hard to believe afterwards that those scenes of rape, incest and blinding occurred in the spaces between chapters ... the violence is justified whereas in the average bestseller it is gratuitous. One must also admire how Herley captures the practical details of daily life five thousand years ago: the hunting, trapping and mining.
Jessica Yates, British Book News
Stone Age bop, bash and slice - competent, tough, and mean.
... it is an extraordinary achievement.