Imagine a low-budget 80s fantasy flick. Instead of overwhelming the viewer with special effects, it relies on its characters and plot to hold the viewer's interest. When magic is finally depicted, it coincides with the most poignant moments in the film, and is all the more memorable for it. Morgan Llywelyn's DRUIDS reads much the same way.
DRUIDS is an interesting mix of low fantasy and historical fiction. The story follows the life of Ainvar, who rises to prominence among the Order of druids as Julius Caesar threatens to overwhelm the free people of Gaul. Magic is real, and it's up to Ainvar to weld it for the sake of his people-- if the Otherworld is willing. Llywelyn strives to immerse the reader into the lives and beliefs of the Gaulish Celts, and the story is populated by many memorable depictions of historical figures from the time period. While anyone familiar with the history of the Roman Empire knows exactly how the struggle for the freedom of Gaul is going to end, the druidic outlook of the main characters provides a unique perspective on the situation as it unfolds. The story is as much as a tragedy of stubbornness as it is a rousing tale of unity.
Unfortunately, the narrative does lose its steam halfway through, as the author spends hundreds of pages on Ainvar and his"soul friend" Rix's quest to personally convince seemingly every king and druid in Gaul of the serious threat that Caesar poses. It doesn't help that Ainvar becomes very closed-minded about both the looming Roman invasion, and the lives of his friends. Specifically, the way he treats his love interest, his former best friend, and many other women is borderline disturbing, yet the text continuously tries to make him look like the levelheaded one. The end result is that when war is finally declared on the Romans, it's difficult to care about what happens to Ainvar himself.
Nonetheless, DRUIDS is well-written and unique take on the last of the free Gauls in print. Recommended for anyone looking for an interesting blend of of high-stakes political struggles, barbaric warfare, and philosophical spirituality.