"The Amber Seeker" is Mandy Haggith's second book in her Stone Stories trilogy. The first volume, "The Walrus Mutterer", introduced us to life in the Iron Age in northern Britain and some key characters who also form the core of the cast of "The Amber Seeker". Central to the second story is Pytheas of Massalia, the famed Greek explorer, who sets out in search of amber and other precious items. He seeks goods to trade upon his return home, but he also wants to uncover the source of both tin and amber and the mysteries surrounding them by talking to anyone along the way who might reveal that information to him. He starts off dreaming that ownership of these things will make him rich and powerful upon his return home, but he also hopes that his travels will lead to another encounter with the slave girl Rian, who stole his heart during a previous voyage, the voyage that formed the core of "The Walrus Mutterer".
The journeys Pytheas undertakes in his quest are many and long. He joins ships along the way that take him from the Mediterranean to the sub arctic and back again. He maps his route through a world where feuding warlords make each stop along the way unpredictable. Will the crews he travels with be welcomed or driven off? He certainly receives the warmest of welcomes from island communities receptive to strangers, but also finds himself in a land of ancient curses where he is detained against his will. Whilst there is trade and riches to be had, there is also plundering amongst rivals and on more than one occasion Pytheas is left alone to barter for his life.
In his search for Rian, Pytheas has a fleeting first encounter which leads him to believe she is no longer the object of his desire, but he fails to see that she is simply trying to survive in the most difficult of circumstances. When he sees her again, once more only fleetingly, he realises what he had failed to see the first time and experiences remorse and a return of his love for her. But Rian is not so easily caught and she is carrying a secret. She flees from him and with the opportunity lost to reclaim her, Pytheas has to begin his search again. Will he find her and if he does will she still be all that he desires?
The descriptive writing in "The Amber Seeker" is exquisite. The Iron Age landscape comes to life with a colourful brilliance and the long sea voyages are by turns magical and terrifying. The characters who at different times accompany Pytheas on his journey are many and varied, but all add to the experience of the journey that the reader is taking with him. One cannot fail to dislike the dominant Ussa, but respect hugely her skipper, Toma. Similarly, the skipper Gurt, whom Pytheas joins as a member of crew as he journeys home, treats his men as family. And it is on his voyage on The Dawn, Gurt's ship, that Pytheas is able to find the true sense of what is important to himself and to all men. It is the recognition that there is one place, deep inside each and every one of us, that we have to keep intact in order to survive. Is that how his story ends? You will have to read this book to find out.