The Greener Shore by Morgan Llywelyn

Read: 17 March, 2009

In this sequel to Druids, Ainvar escapes from a Roman-ruled Gaul to the shores of Hibernia. Once there, he must learn the ways of Eriu, a strange woman who speaks to him from the Otherworld. As he forges a place for himself and his large family among the Gaels, he manages to tread on the toes of some locals. Unfortunately, his druidic powers have deserted him since the battle of Alesia, leaving him vulnerable. Meanwhile, Cormiac Ru must find the long-lost Maia, whom he believes himself destined to marry despite the fact that she was stolen and sold into Roman slavery as an infant.

POSITIVE: Llywelyn’s writing style has not much changed in the years between Druids and Greener Shore. This new novel has most of the same strengths and flaws as its predecessors. While this can certainly be a negative (it would have been nice to see the author correct what had held Druids back from being a great novel), I found it a positive – if only because Greener Shore didn’t suffer from the all-too-common sequel-itis. This was not a novel released hurriedly in the hopes that it would ride its predecessor’s laurels.

As in Druids, the beginning was rather painful, but the story soon picked up. I managed to fly through two-hundred pages in just a few hours.

NEGATIVES: There didn’t seem to be much direction to the novel. Druids had the creation of the Gaulish federation and the defeat of Caesar, but Greener Shore lacked any kind of similar goal. Rather, the plot ambled along until it reached an epiphany, but this was done in a rather lack-luster way. Had the epiphany been very good, or had the journey been dotted with thought-provoking insight, this would have been fine. Unfortunately, Greener Shore lacked both. Those many sayings peppering the novel that were clearly meant to be “deep” were rather quite obvious and common to most books that seek depth. Those little surprising, funny, and interesting sayings that sometimes found their way into Druids were lacking here.

I also found exposition of what had happened in the previous novel to be rather heavy-handed. I wish Llywelyn had either sought to make Greener Shore a stand-alone part of a saga, or a straight sequel of Druids. Instead, she gave it a completely different feel (which is a completely waffly term, I know – but it’s the best I can come up with) while constantly bogging it down with “as you know, Martha” moments where characters narrate the events of the first novel to characters who had been present! I raised a similar complaint when I read Druids. Llywelyn spends far too much time on exposition and simply does not seem to trust her readers.

The Greener Shore is only a sequel of Druids in the sense that it involves many of the same characters and takes place after the events of the early book. Yes, that sounds like the definition of a sequel, but Greener Shore is an entirely different book with a completely different story to tell. Change the names and strike out the cumbersome “in the last episode” passages and it would function perfectly as an independent novel. Those wanting more Druids will be disappointed. Those wanting more Llywelyn will not.

P.S.: If anyone can tell me why Ainvar keeps refering to Ireland by its Roman name instead of the name the Gaels use, please explain it to me. I would have assumed that he would be eager to accept just about anything other than the Roman designation. All I can think is that it was supposed to have some sort of symbolic significance when, at the end, he talks about remembering Eriu, but it just doesn’t make sense to me.

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Druids by Morgan Llywelyn

Read: 12 March, 2009

When Ainvar’s grandmother gives her life to save her tribe from starvation, he begins his journey to learn the true meaning of sacrifice. Along with his “soul friend,” the warrior Vercingetorix, Ainvar must find a way to end Caesar’s conquest of Gaul.

POSITIVE: Great plot and a fantastic pace. After a painful beginning, this novel quickly became an exciting page-turner.

NEGATIVE: Unfortunately, this great story was burdened with several narrative issues. Right from the start, the reader is met with page after page of unnecessary exposition. Exciting scenes would be broken up by dull interludes explaining the meaning of this or that ritual or detail. The choice of the first person narrative may also have been a mistake as there is no clear perspective or reason for the telling of the story (at one point, Ainvar says “I must remember to ask Menua,” despite the fact that Menua has already died from the narrator’s perspective). Finally, I have to mention the scene where Ainvar looks into a mirror. He describes the “young man staring back at me” as:

“He had an elegant narrow head with a long skull suitable for storing knowledge. The eye sockets were deeply carved, the cheekbones high, the nose prominent and thrusting. It was a strong clear timeless face full of contradictions, brooding yet mischievous, reserved yet involved. Fathomless eyes and curving lips spoke of intense passions carefully suppressed, concentrated in stillness.”

Who, I ask, would ever write in this way about themselves? It’s just silly.

Overall, I would say that this book is worth the read, especially for people with an interest in historical battles or the history of Gaul. That being said, readers should be prepared for a less-than-fabulous writing style and an incomplete mastery of the first person narrative.

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Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend by Miranda Green

Read: 25 November, 2007

I have no idea how accurate the information in this dictionary is because I know just about zilch about Celtic mythology. However, I do like the book based on a purely “how interesting is it?” criterion. While it may be read through from cover to cover (as I did in about two days), I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. Because it’s a dictionary and because each entry is intended to stand along, many of the stories and ideas are repeated several times. It would be much better used as a reference book.

The entries are fairly short, ranging from about a paragraph or two as the norm to about a page as an extreme. Because of their shorter length, they obviously are not terribly detailed. Each entry gives a general overview of its concept and includes other terms and names that may also be looked up. In essence, it’s a great place to get a vague idea to start with, but other books are needed if a more in-depth study is to be conducted.

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