Several months ago, I reported on the Edmonton launch of Druids by Barbara Galler-Smith and Josh Langston, and promised a review. I don't really like to write reviews, though, and have been procrastinating. Meanwhile, the book has attracted quite a bit of attention, and now has made the short list for the Aurora award for Canadian speculative fiction. You can find out more about this award, and vote if you wish, at: http://www.prix-aurora-awards.ca
We don't really know a lot about the ancient Celts, and fantasy novels set in Celtic worlds are often based more on fairy tales than history. Druids, however, does not present us with a misty world of heroes and wizards, but a believeable mosaic of ancient tribes, unaware of the upheaval which their culture will soon suffer from the growing ambitions of Imperial Rome. The druids of the story are the keepers of knowledge within this culture: healers, priests, and judges. Most of the things which they do are things that might really have been done, and the problems which they face are primarily realistic ones. When magical elements are encountered, they are elusive: prophetic dreams, and a queer transformation called woad-sleep which they employ but do not truly understand.
There is a sense of eerie mystery about these parts of the story, and it is clear that the characters take a risk when they trust in such mysteries, even as they take risks in choosing what people to trust. This book alone spans about twenty years and a considerable area of western Europe, and the scope of the series as a whole seems destined to be an epic one. But so far the action is not dominated by historical events so much as by the personal choices made by the characters. As the story progresses, it is not just the tide of history which catches up with them, but the consequences of their own mistakes, particularly misplaced trust. At the end of the book, it is not yet clear what the final consequences of their magical experiments will be.
Altogether, Druids is a complex and dramatic tale, which leaves the reader with a sense that there is still much to be revealed. For those interested in the world of the ancient Celts, it strikes a nice balance, reconstructing a world based on history rather than myth, but not becoming so prosaic as to lose the sense of mystery that makes that world so fascinating in the first place.