CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 14 . . . . December 4, 2009
Barbara Galler-Smith & Josh Langston.
Calgary, AB: Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2009.
336 pp., pbk., $19.95.
Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.
Review by Ronald Hore.
"Justice," Sertorius said, "no more or less than they are." He looked first at Cormac and then caught the eye of everyone present. "Let it be known that my justice is fair and swift."
He stabbed Paulus directly under the ribcage, slanting the long blade up toward the heart. He gave the hilt an additional shove, burying the entire blade inside the mercenary's chest.
Paulus gasped and let out a bubbling wail as his blood poured onto the ground to mix with Trajan's. The Castulans released him, and he folded his arms around his ruined chest as he collapsed.
No one said a word. Rhonwen, still shaking from her ordeal, stared at the bodies with grim satisfaction. The goddess had answered her prayer with Sertorius. As far as she knew, no Roman officer had ever before punished his men for crimes against the people they governed. The men under Governor Fufidius were known for their drunken brawls and assaults on village women. Everyone assumed all Romans allowed and perhaps even encouraged such things to humiliate the people and keep them dispirited.
Druids, an historical fantasy, opens in an Iberian village in 96 B.C. where Rhonwen, a young Celtic healer, lives with her family, including her uncle, the Druid Orlan. Two Roman soldiers attempt to rape Rhonwen and are caught in the act by their commanding officer, Quintus Sertorius, who enacts swift justice on the spot. Rhonwen grows up with mixed feelings for the officer who saved her, and she must make a difficult choice between his life and her mother's wishes when a group of Celts rebel against the Romans who bring down swift retribution upon them. Rhonwen flees to Gaul with her bitter mother, Baia.
The novel follows three parallel tales, the first is Rhonwen's, the other two being that of Orlan and the other main protagonist, Mallec, a young druid-in-training with a gift of prophecy, who leaves the rough life with his tribe to travel to the island of Mona, a centre of druidic learning. Orlan becomes the leader of a druidic centre in Amorica and discovers there a source of ancient magic. While on Mona, Mallec struggles to survive the difficult life of a scholar. Rhonwen, now a druid in her own right, finds her life complicated by her feelings for Sertorius when their paths cross once again.
Set against the turbulent times in Celtic Europe between 96 B.C. and 77 B.C. when civil war and oppression rage, sometimes Roman against Celt, sometimes Roman against Roman, this is a story that includes passion and betrayal as various characters vie for power. Not all men, nor women either, are honourable. The Celtic world of earth magic and goddesses is contrasted with the Roman world of power and ambition, although the Romans are not the only ones seeking power. Even in the peaceful world where Orlan studies his magic, jealous competitors seek his secrets and will stoop to murder to obtain them.
The book is 336 pages long and consists of 25 chapters, a dedication page, a prologue and an epilogue. In addition there are four pages listing other titles by this publisher. There are no illustrations or maps. The story contains some passages that describe brutality as in the sample above, some scenes that touch on sexual issues, and some minor use of magic, but these are handled with taste.
Druids is well written, with a feel for the period in which the story is set, and the authors make good use of a historical Roman figure and the events surrounding him around which to build their tale. The ending leaves the reader expecting that a sequel is in the works. Druids should appeal to those who are interested in this particular time in history or in a fantasy-adventure type of story.
Ronald Hore, involved with writer's groups for several years, retired from the business world in Winnipeg, MB.
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