My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Ainvar is an orphan in the Celtic tribe of the Carnutes. He is fascinated by the Druids that oversee the lives of his people and their magic. He sneaks out one night to observe one of the secret rituals performed by the Druids, and the consequences of his intervention in the ceremony cause the chief Druid of the time to take Ainvar on as an apprentice. Along with his training, he becomes soul friend to Vercingetorix, the young Celtic prince destined to lead the Celts against the invading Roman army of Julius Ceasar.
The first half of the book was better than the second. The first half deals with Ainvar and his growth into the magic that the Druids commanded, and his relationship with Vercingetorix, as well as the growing fear Ainvar has of the Romans on their march of conquest. It does get a bit preachy at times when going into intimate detail of the Druidic magic. It can start to sound a bit like a lecture on the life and times of the Celtic Druids. But the work is well-researched (Llywelyn is an acknowledged historian of her subject here), and even the sometimes unnecessarily long explanations are interesting for learning more about a people and time we know too little about. Ainvar is a bit of a difficult character to like. He’s obviously talented, he cares about his people and preserving their way of life, and he does face some tough decisions and times. But he’s also a bit of a jerk, especially to his boyhood friend (who, to be fair, was even more of a jerk). Vercingetorix, who doesn’t really become a big part until the second half of the story, is pretty much a stereotypical “barbarian” warrior- he just wants to hit things. He does have a few good moments and his charisma does show through.
When we get to the second half of the book, though, it really slows down. There is a lot of riding back and forth from one tribe to another, home again, then off to more travel and talk. There are battles that actually took place during the Roman conquest, but many are glossed over and done with quickly. It seems the author was more interested in the history than the story. Fans of historical fiction with more interest in learning about the time period and actual history behind the story will likely enjoy this one more than someone who wants a bit more story than lesson.
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