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The Celtic Ring
Björn Larsson (translated by George Simpson)
Sheridan House, 387 pages

The Celtic Ring
Björn Larsson
Born in central Sweden in 1953, Björn Larsson went to school in Jönköping. At 15, he spent a year of high school in Arizona, and after school spent four years studying in Paris. Refusing to do compulsory military service, he was jailed, but took the opportunity to read the more boring passages he needed to for his doctorate. A research assistant at the University of Lund for some time, he accepted a post in the Department of Romance Languages as lecturer in French. He lives with his Danish wife, a marine biologist, his daughter and his sail boat, the Rustica, in Gilleleje, a fishing village at the northern tip of Denmark. While he derives his income from his university position, his and his wife's real passion is sailing. His first literary book was Splinters (1980), a collection of short stories. This was followed by the sailing and adventure novel Den keltiska ringen, translated in 1997 by George Simpson as The Celtic Ring, and issued for the first time in paperback in the presently reviewed edition. His second novel, Long John Silver (Harvill Press, 1999) follows Robert Louis Stevenson's character from the classic Treasure Island through further adventures. His latest novel (1997) is Drömmar vid havet [Dreams by the sea].

Bio-bibliography of B. Larsson: 1, 2
Bjorn Larsson, professor,
Dept. of Romance Languages, University of Lund, Sweden

Review: The Celtic Ring (in English): 1
Review: Le cercle celtique (in French): 1
Review: Der Keltische Ring (in German): 1, 2, 3
Audio book: Long John Silver in German
About B. Larsson and Long John Silver (in Swedish)
Review: Long John Silver: (in English)1, 2, 3
Review: Long John Silver: (in German): 1
Sheridan House

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

The pure adventure novel, without fantasy or science fiction elements, has become a rare breed. But here's one that packs all the adventure, suspense, mystery -- and even a smidgen of pagan mysticism -- you can handle. It is, of all things, a novel about small craft sailing in and around Scotland, something many might not associate with adventure. Notwithstanding this, if you are one of the few remaining addicts of good adventure yarns, and particularly if you are the least bit a fan of Erskine Childers' classic early adventure/spy novel, The Riddle of the Sands (1903), don't miss this book.

Indeed, The Celtic Ring has much in common with The Riddle of the Sands: a pair of sailors, one experienced, the other not, discovering a dangerous conspiracy among treacherous waters, the latter in the Frisian Isles off the coast of Germany, the former along and among the coastal islands of Scotland. Given Larsson's passion for personal freedom exemplified in his jailings for refusing compulsory military service in his country, and Erskine Childers martyrdom in the cause of Irish independence in the early part of the 20th century, it is quite clear that The Celtic Ring is at least in part an homage to Childers. Larsson's more than passing mention of Childers in The Celtic Ring confirms this.

The story begins when Ulf, aboard his yacht the Rustica, is handed a ship's log by a sailor who then disappears. The log tells of the rescue of young woman who was to be ritually killed in a Druidical sacrifice. This and her apparent re-abduction lead Ulf and his friend Torben to make a dangerous winter crossing of the North Sea, in an attempt to save the woman and find out more about her captors. A black fishing boat, the F154, seems to turn up wherever they go, and finally McDuff, its skipper, warns them off. Ulf and Torben piece together evidence that a secretive organization, the Celtic Ring, bent on creating an independent Celtic federation, is involved. The remainder becomes a cat-and-mouse game between Ulf and Torben, McDuff, and his less gentlemanly Celtic Circle associates, ranging down the lochs, canals and treacherous shores and islands off the coast of Scotland.

While the premise of a Celtic conspiracy might be somewhat implausible, particularly given the heightened autonomy recently given to Scotland and Wales, the well-developed intrigue and mystery in The Celtic Ring more than makes up for it. The heroes, while cultured and accustomed to a certain standard of living, are both interesting characters; Ulf very stoic, self-sufficient and structured in his life, Torben much more emotional and prone to impulsive decisions. In many ways they and their foes, along with the slow but steady development of the story, are very reminiscent of the novels of "clubland heroes" of John Buchan (Richard Hannay) or Dornford Yates (Chandos et al.).

Lastly, if you're worried that you won't understand all the sailing jargon, don't worry. As someone who knows absolutely nothing about sailing, I had no difficulty with The Celtic Ring. This isn't to say, however, that if you are a sailing enthusiast you won't get a great deal more out of the book, but either way it will become evident to you that the author is someone who is truly passionate about sailing and the sea. This, in and of itself, is worth the price of admission.

Copyright © 2001 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association and maintains a site reflecting his tastes in imaginative literature.

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