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Review: ‘The Greener Shore’ by Morgan Llywelyn

February 12, 2013

The Greener Shore coverSummary: Julius Caesar and his Roman armies invaded Gaul and conquered the proud peoples of the region. The druid Ainvar fled the invaders with what remained of his clan: his wives and children, three of his fellow druids and their wives, and a few soldiers and craftsmen.  Once a great druid and chief druid of his clan, Ainvar can no longer command his magic, yet he must lead his people to safety and far away from the long reach of Rome. Ainvar leads his people north, past the shores of Albion and all the way to Hibernia, the land of the warlike Gaels.  When Ainvar and his people land, they find more than they ever could have hoped: a green landscape with trees and plentiful game, hospitable terrain, and no Romans.  Encouraged by his first wife, Briga, Ainvar negotiates with the natives of Hibernia, the Gaels, to allow his people to take up residence.  At last, the Gauls can call a place home.

But all is not as peaceful in Hibernia as first it seemed.  The clans of the Gaels constantly war against each other, and clan leaders must always defend against the potential usurper.  The druids of Hibernia are not of the same class that Ainvar and his fellows knew in Gaul: these druids are less respected, less magical, and less welcoming of rivals.  Magical forces are also at work in the land, mysterious magics that Ainvar and his kin struggle to understand.  The locals speak of beings called Fir Bolg and Tuatha De Danann with fear in their voices.  Who or what are these mysterious creatures that strike fear into the hearts of the hardiest warriors?  Ainvar and his clan must find a way to understand their new surroundings and their new role in Gaelic society or risk being as swept away as the Gauls they left behind.

My Thoughts: I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with this book.  In many ways, it was a surprise.  I’ve read some of Llywelyn’s other books, such as Druids and Red Branch, but this one came off as being very different.  I feel it’s a heavier blend of history and fiction than her other works, which are more fictionalized.  The style is also different from her other books.  This one is more choppy with the scenes at times, especially at the beginning and end.

The characters were excellent.  Ainvar is the main character and we follow his point of view for most of the book.  He goes through the most shifts in personality as the story progresses.  Ainvar, the leader of what remains of his clan, is forced to shoulder tasks and responsibilities that, in his life before Julius Caesar’s invasion of Gaul, he would never have been asked to handle.  On top of that, we initially meet Ainvar when he is grieving the loss of a close friend and the initial leader of the clan.  It’s emotional to follow this character and see how he copes with the massive upheaval of his life and all he has known.  He cannot even fall back on the comfort of his ancestral homeland and familiar surroundings, because they are now lost to him.  Ainvar is an excellent main character and I feel he carries much of the story.

I also enjoyed Dara, Ainvar’s son.  He doesn’t figure much into the story in the first half of the book, but by the second half, he comes to the fore and the reader gets to see him grow up through his father’s eyes.  It’s wonderful seeing how this character grows.

Briga, Ainvar’s wife, is a wonderful character.  She’s beautiful, powerful, and loving, but rather in denial about her gifts.  She uses them, yes, but refuses to participate in the study of the druids.  Briga, more than any of the other characters, fascinated me.  I believe she is also tied in to the mythology of the goddess Brigid, namely in the actions she took with the hearthfire, sacred wells, and healing duties.  Mythology appears in the story in a very interesting way, and in a way I did not expect.  The Tuatha De Danann, a race of magincal beings who settled Ireland and fought with the Fir Bolg, a defeated race who inhabitaed Ireland before the coming of the Tuatha De Danann.  Ainvar, after being warned about the evils of the Tuatha De Danann and witnessing the fear of the Gaels, eventually meets Eriu–but since saying much more would be spoiling the story, we’ll move on.

The plot is decent, but slow at times.  Especially at the beginning, I had some difficulty getting into the story.  By the middle, I was hooked, but even then I felt there were a few points that the plot had slowed down too much.  The tensions between Ainvar and members of the Gael are particularly satisfying as this adds some danger to the middle of the story, which threatened to be too passive and peaceful.  The last few chapters are perfect, as we get all the action we could ask for and then some.

I enjoyed The Greener Shore overall, and would recommend it to those who enjoy historical fiction or fantasy.

3 stars: Still a pretty good read, but I can set it aside if I need to for things like school, eating, sleeping, etc.

Book info: published 2006, 301 pages, ISBN: 9780345477675

Buy on Amazon * Author’s Website * GoodReads

Copy is from personal library

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