Life is good for our hero, Ainvar. He is the Chief Druid for all of Gaul. He has the most talent for magic seen in many generations. Kings and warriors listen carefully to his counsel. He is the soul-brother of the famed Vercingetorix. And he gets to practice sex magic with all sorts of women.
But there is a black cloud on the horizon. It wears a red cloak and is named Gaius Julius Caesar. It doesn't take a ballista-scientist to divine his aims. To subjugate all the Gallic tribes. And exterminate the Druids.
What's To Like...
The characters are well-developed. The women characters are just as strong as the men. Indeed, some even join the front ranks of the battles. The historical portions (Vercingetorix's struggles against the Romans) are accurately detailed.
Historically, very little is known about the Druids themselves, and most of it comes from the biased Romans. So Morgan Llwelyn has free rein to develop a believable druidic system. She's creatively superb at that, and it's when she's detailing the spells, propheecies, out-of-body erperiences, etc. that the fantasy part of the novel arises. That's okay though, cuz New Age (so-called) Druids will eat it up.
The magic is potent, but not all-powerful. I'll put up with the sex magic, although the idea of a promiscuous priesthood seems a bit far-fetched. And I'm okay with the uneven subject treatment (the Gauls wear the white hats; the Romans wear the black ones). If you want to cheer for the Romans, go read Caesar's Gallic Commentaries.
Kewlest New Word...
Vates : Soothsayers; bards; prophets; poets. Usually refers to Celtic practitioners of these arts.
If I could only reach the grove I thought, in my panic, that I would be safe. The grove was sacred, everyone knew that. Even the animals of the forest were said to revere it; surely the wolves would not kill me there.
At fifteen, one believes any amount of nonsense. (pg. 8)
The chief druid never made an awkward gesture, even when he scratched himself. Every movement was fluid, celebrating the ability to move.
I was so impressed, I even believed he farted musically. (pg. 23)
"Don't waste your effort on smoke and sacrifice, Ainvar," he said harshly. "We're winning through our own strength, not because of some dubious druid magic."
Winners, my head observed, believe they succeed on their own merit. It is only losers who require gods to blame. (pgs. 341-42)
Death is a cobweb we brush through; not the last thing but the least thing. (pg. 153)
Druids is a nice blend of history and fantasy. It is to Morgan Llywelyn's credit that neither overwhelms the other. The writing is well-done and the pacing is good. But this is also a tragic tale.
The outcome is inevitable. "Veni, vidi, vici."
The ending is therefore sad, but not maudlin. The Romans win; the Gauls are conquered; the Druids are scattered; and Ainvar is forced to flee for his life. That may seem like a major downer, but be of good cheer. There is a sequel. 9 Stars.