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Morgan Llywelyn

Morrow, 1991
Barnes & Noble


Ainvar, born into the warrior aristocracy of the Carnutes, in Celtic Gaul, even as a child wanted to know about the Druids. When he spied on one of their ceremonies in the sacred grove (where now the cathedral of Chartres stands) & discovered it was a sacrifice for the good of the tribe (winter would not die) and the (willing) victim was his own grandmother, he burst into the grove and kissed her cold body. To the amazement of the chief Druid, Menua, & everyone else, the corpse opened her eyes & the woman told her grandson that he must let her go & then died. This reawakening was taken as a sign that Ainvar had great powers (not, as Ainvar himself later surmised, that the poison she had taken had not completed its work) & he was taken on as a pupil, later as successor, to Menua. His 2 most important childhood friends are Vercingetorix & Crom Daral. Crom Daral was to grow up embittered & purposely cause Ainvar much grief. Vercingetorix would also cause Ainvar much grief, but in a cause that Ainvar supported wholeheartedly, driving the Romans out of Free Gaul. We see briefly various of Caesar’s major battles, but not really Caesar as a character (mainly because the story is narrated by Ainvar). We see Vercingetorix’s successes - first in uniting the fiercely independent Gallic tribes & second in fighting Caesar, but the penultimate chapter in the fall of Alesia & the surrender of Vercingetorix. Ainvar tells us of his loves, especially of Briga, his wife, a captive and of the incognito observation of Roman territory that he and Vercingetorix make. We find out a lot about Druid practices and beliefs and Gallic tribal customs, none of which I am competent in, but they have the ring of truth & research & are at least consistent. The style is often poetic; there is a lot of the bard in Ainvar (& one of the other main characters is a bard, who attaches himself to Vercingetorix so he can write the greatest heroic song). Character depiction is good, the prose is good, the story is good. Of course, we know how it has to end from the time Vercingetorix appears on the scene, but how that will come about we don’t completely know. Since we see things from the Celtic perspective, we have a different take on the Gallic campaigns than Caesar gives, especially since Ainvar is an intelligent and sensitive character whom we come to like. Some of the Gauls are not pleasant or honorable; none of the Romans are pleasant or honorable. Llywelyn mixes in just enough magic on the part of the Druids to move the story & the tone one step away from reality, but the magic is not shown as able to accomplish just anything and it seems natural in the context. I enjoyed the novel a lot and the historical figures and main actions seem right, but I would welcome comments from people who know Celtic/Druidic custom of the period about the accuracy of that part of the novel. Fred Mench 8/98

- Fred Mench, 8/1/1998

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