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The Druid's Son by G. R. Grove
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The Druid's Son

by G. R. Grove

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The early 1st century Celts are an incredibly mysterious bunch. They left no written record for themselves, and what little archeological evidence that can be found only provides the slimmest of glimpse into these people’s daily lives. What little has been recorded comes from foreigner invaders or was passed down through oral tradition. This to me seems like the perfect environment for an imaginative writer to thrive in, and G. R. Grove does with her fourth novel The Druid’s Son.

At its heart, The Druid’s Son is the coming of age story of a young man during the turbulent early years of Roman occupation. Togi, the protagonist of this story, is a member of the proud Ordovices a not yet totally defeated tribe of the Anglesey (Wales). Togi unlike most boys his age is not only taught the ways of warfare and sheep herding, but he is also taught the rituals and the spirituality of the Druids by his stepfather one of the last remaining Druid priest of the Anglesey. The result is that Togi is a well balanced character with all the necessary skills to transition from a skirmish with a Roman Legion to the politics of the King’s court, making his story all that more compelling. Togi’s ability to go from warrior to priest, combined with a natural intelligence/intuition, gives him a serious edge in the ever exalting battle to save his people and religion from destruction. For Rome the Ordovices are pain that must be dealt with swiftly so they can get back to expanding the empire. But for the Ordovices it’s a matter of survival and the preservation of a way of life not accepted by their new rulers. Togi’s destiny is closely aligned with fate of his people and slow building tension culminates in a final showdown with the Romans that test Togi to his limits.

What makes The Druid’s Son special is Grove’s sense of history. She manages to fill in the gaps of our knowledge with the something that not only seems plausible, but with something that rings true with the time and place. Another great aspect of her writing style is that the reader is able to decide if the Druidic magic is tangibly real or just a matter of perception. At no point is the reader asked to take the stories religious and magical aspects to be literally true, instead, we are left just enough space to draw our own conclusions. Another real treat is that Grove has a real eye for geography, and her descriptions of the lush landscape and topography make the scenes in the novel feel like real places and are a physical part of Wales and Ireland. A really terrific historical novel for a time period we know so little about. ( )
7 vote stretch | Dec 17, 2012 |
The Druid's Son originated as a spin-off of Grove's Storyteller series: writing of the 4th book was interrupted when she realised a developing backstory was evolving into its own novel. Events here unfold in the Britain of the Roman Invasion, some 500 years earlier than that described in the Storyteller books, but this prequel follows a similar format and style: solid historical setting, grounded in the tribal communities predominant at the time and an atmosphere suffused with the seasons as experienced by everyday people, both in terms of natural cycles and the cultural meanings attached to them.

Grove deliberately departs from Storyteller in a couple ways, a direct consequence of her choice of historical setting and the conflict between early Britons and the invading Romans.

First, the setting isn't ancient Wales and the Welsh kingdoms, since they don't exist yet. Instead, collective identity is found at the tribal level, with a higher level of tribute lent to a regional king or leader. These polities presumably are the basis for the eventual Welsh identity, and Grove grounds them in historical tribes existing at the time.

Second, Grove shifts her focus from the social role of the Bard to that of the Druid. The conflict between the Roman occupiers and native Britons focuses on the cultural importance of Druids as both unifying force and wellspring of an armed defense. Linked to this is the role of magic in the story: it is central both to the plot and to the main character, Togi. This shift is interesting in that there is far less historical material to build on, and puts front & center the importance and causation of magic, which was significant but incidental in the Storyteller books.

I was most keen to follow this theme of magic and how it is portrayed. Grove's description of ritual is rooted in recognisable Celtic traditions and principles, such as the significance of threes; the natural elements such as water, air, fire, light; Beltane and Samhain, and the Celtic calendar; and deities such as Manannon, Gorannon, and Lugh. Much, however, had to be invented whole cloth and Grove's choices are fascinating both in their form and in the effect they had on my reading experience. Magic became increasingly important over the course of the Storyteller books, but (in the first trilogy, at least) never eclipse the role of natural behavior and observation. Especially interesting is Grove's explicit linkage between magic as supernatural power, and awen, the divine inspiration which serves as the creative force in the Bardic tradition. In her stories, this link is quite natural as to almost seem obvious or a simple restatement. I suspect, though, each has a distinct tradition and that they are not always equated in the historical record (such as it exists), and consider their layering to be one of Grove's creative achievements.

Druid's Son effectively addresses directly the tensions building in Storyteller, and while done in a similar manner, and equally believable, I found in the end (somewhat surprisingly) that I prefer the indirect role of magic in Storyteller. It comes back to Grove's grounding in a historical setting, adherence to what is factually known about the people she's writing about, and limiting conjecture to what fits comfortably in the resulting frame. So, while magic takes an overt role in the action, it's always open to interpretation as to how much occurred empirically, and how much was subjectively experienced (in the psychology and perception of those affected, whether Druid, or Druid's friends, or the Roman enemy). I find if magic is to be overt, I prefer it to be treated as if it were another natural phenomenon, and not left to question.

Also interesting is the fact that despite the huge differences in historical setting between this and the Storyteller books, the effect of landscape and culture was quite similar on me. I conclude this has more to do with the knowledge I bring to my reading, than with the differences Grove writes about. A revealing look at how my modern commonplaces determine my understanding of different cultures, because they are to me each more different from my familiar surroundings, than they are from each other.

//

Lindow Man served as the inspiration for Togi's father, Lovernos, and the Lindow Man's evident sacrifice as part of Druidic rite becomes the kernel of the central conflict between Britons and Romans. Interesting, how Grove uses what little is known and weaves it into her conception of Druidic ritual, the purpose of sacrifice, and its importance for lasting British identity.

The tribes described in Druid's Son lent their names to geological periods defined by 19th and 20th century scientists with reference to geological formations & strata identified in these areas of present-day Wales. ( )
8 vote elenchus | Dec 6, 2012 |


54/59. [The Druid's Son] by G. R. Grove (2012, 273 pages, read Oct 3-13 & reread Oct 16 – Nov 7)

What confuses me in trying to review this is the contradiction between that place our imagination takes us when we read Tacitus's description of Roman destruction of the Druid stronghold on Anglesey in AD 61 and that place just afterward, where GR Grove takes us. History has just happened; the next is the inevitable, at least from our perception, looking backward. "The harvest was over." opens The Druid's Son, a story that is built more on the reconstructed lifestyle and landscape of the Wales of this period, then the striking history it's wrapped in.

Here is Tacitus.

On the coastline, a line of warriors of the opposition was stationed, mainly made up of armed men, amongst them women, with their hair blowing in the wind, while they were carrying torches. Druids were amongst them, shouting terrifying spells, their hands raised towards the heavens, which scared our soldiers so much that their limbs became paralyzed. As a result, they remained stationary and were injured. At the end of the battle, the Romans were victorious, and the holy oaks of the druids were destroyed.

The Celts in future Wales are silent in history, leaving only foreigners descriptions like this, and a curious archeology to document them.

Grove creates her version of this Celtic world though the story of the son of last Archdruid on Anglesey, conceived shortly after these holy oaks were destroyed and shortly before this last Druid in Wales has himself ritually sacrificed. This story works quietly, keeping close the annual cycles, the Celtic festivals and the everyday focus on agriculture that just barely sustains the tribes. Year by year the druid's son grows and learns and the book accumulates through dialogue and relationships, the interweaving of the even more ancient history, the mysterious megalithic ruins, and through the magic and religion he is able to find and fully wrap himself within. She reconstructs her own version of a druidic and bardic context of thought and learning and philosophy.

This is fourth book I've read by Grove. In each book she works between or even after some dramatic events, crafting quiet tensions based often on everyday concerns about survival. Her version of druidic religion and magic are worked strongly into the stories, but these things can be taken two ways. The reader is left to decide how much should be taken as real and how much as artifact of the characters perceptions; and then to wonder about what this may tell about the psychological make of these characters. Thorough research goes into these, and is part of what makes these stories special. Historically darker eras, Grove excels in using her knowledge of the landscape and the known practices and then reconstructing her versions of these worlds to build her stories.
16 vote dchaikin | Dec 3, 2012 |
The Druid's Son by G. R. Grove

This is a beautiful biography of a boy who would be a Druid despite all odds.
The ring he wears (secretly) belonged to the father he never knew. The stepfather who raised him taught and inspired him. But Togi, whose life Grove relates, learned much from nature, observation, and experience.

We see him first when he's seven years old, already adept at morning prayers. Throughout his young life he stays close to Cingetos, a bard, and learns a way of life that includes what we now call anger management: Just Anger moves a brave man to avenge injustice; Vain Anger flares up at a trifle, and causes needless quarrel; Coward's Anger simply cloaks fear, gaining nothing.

In twenty chapters Grove gives her readers a panoramic picture of medieval Welsh life. Peasants who work the land are at the mercy not only of the weather, but of the Red Crests, the military force that collects designated shares of their crops. Togi is nine years old when he learns how "tribute" is taken from villagers with no regard for their need. As he matures and leaves his home we learn, with him, how complicated it is to even try to establish a balance of power.

One lesson he learned as a youngster is to stand him in good stead much later in life. "Bats move quickly, and never in a straight line. That is their protection; no one knows where they will be next. Remember that, if you are ever pursued, and do the thing unexpected," he was told.

Unexpected things do happen and it is a splendid adventure for readers to watch Togi survive. ( )
7 vote Esta1923 | Oct 7, 2012 |
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Harvest was over.
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“Blood and death wait always in the way of the warrior,” said Cunomoros quietly.
How shall I know, until my need is upon me? answered Togi. When that hour comes, I will pay the price that is due.
"Sharpen the knife now, my son, that all may be as it should be on the appointed day."
He was not popular with everyone; he spent too much time alone, and some of them suspected him of working magic. And in that, of course, they were not entirely wrong: but only in their ideas of what that magic might entail. It was not something which could be used lightly, like an old wife’s charm muttered over the cooking pots, or the string of nonsense words which kept the nightmare at bay. It was an opening of one’s self to the universe, to see and feel and taste
and smell everything that was around one, and by aligning one’s will with that of the Gods, to work changes in the world. [121]
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Blurb: "The Roman armies are conquering Britain: they have destroyed the Druid sanctuaries and savagely crushed Boudicca's revolt. In these desparate days, knowing his own death is imminent, the last Archdruid of Ynys Mon engenders a son. The boy's mission: to defeat the Roman invaders and preserve his father's heritage. But can he possibly survive long enough to achieve his goal?"

This is a prequel to the Storyteller Series, set in the first century AD.
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