Chief Druid Ainvar, his three wives and their children, and about 15 other survivors from their Celtic clan are sailing west to Hibernia after years of hiding in the forests of Gaul after the Romans destroyed their clan and Julius Caesar murdered their charismatic leader, Vercingetorix.
Ainvar, who relates their adventure in the first person, expended his druid magic in their last fight against the Romans and he knows how weak his tribe, the Carnutes, is. But the Romans are determined to wipe them out, so their only hope for salvation is to leave Gaul. When their little band arrives in Hibernia, they are at the sufferance and mercy of the Celtic clans who already inhabit the island. They must find a way to fit in with these Celts who have different beliefs and customs.
The Greener Shore is a beautifully told historical fantasy. Morgan Llywelyn‘s language and characters are deep and vivid. Her female characters are particularly strong, wise, and believable. Ainvar himself is a thinker (we are often privy to his interesting inner musings on the nature of man and society) and he’s gentle except when the subject is Julius Caesar. Then he suddenly spouts delicious thoughts like these:
- The Romans kept coming. Tendrils of a poisonous weed, they extended their reach until at last we realized their true and deadly intent. Led by someone called Gaius Julius Caesar — a figure of walking excrement that needs three names to make it feel like a man — the Romans meant to steal everything from us, even the land on which we lived.
- With the splendid and shining Vercingetorix leading the united tribes of Free Gaul, we defied the despicable Caesar and his army of clanking dwarfs, and very nearly won.
- Druids read the future in entrails. The odious Caesar was only interested in spilling entrails for personal gain. He left the bloody ruin of an entire nation strewn across the lovely face of Gaul.
- As far as I was concerned, they were all Romans and equally guilty — maggots swarming over the corpse of Gaul
Morgan Llywelyn’s language is most beautiful when describing the events that came before the Carnutes’ exodus: the shining glory of Vercingetorix and the horror of Roman ambition. Thus, The Greener Shore reads like an extended epilogue — all of the tension, action, and excitement have already happened and this is the last section that usually just explains whether or not they lived happily ever after. So I found myself thinking that Ms. Llywelyn should have written about Vercingetorix and the Romans instead. The Greener Shore is beautiful stuff, but it’s anti-climactic. The infrequent bouts of tension are quickly resolved and it feels like things are constantly winding down.
When I went to post this review on the page I made two years ago for Morgan Llywelyn’s historical fantasies, I realized my mistake. The Greener Shore is an epilogue. It’s the sequel to Druids, which is a story about — you guessed it — how Vercingetorix and the Celtic clans of Gaul almost defeated Julius Caesar. I found The Greener Shore at Audible.com and incorrectly assumed, since it was the only Llywelyn book available, that it was a stand-alone.
So I’m happy to report that The Greener Shore is a gorgeous novel that’s completely readable by itself, but it is the last act of what was likely a better story. I will read Druids someday and hope that it features less frequent reflections on The Source of All Being, The Pattern, The Balance, and Sacred Mother Earth, and will instead be full of dynamic characters, lots of action, and plenty of Morgan Llywelyn’s lovely language.