The Valley (The Druid Chronicles, 2)
In Linden’s fictional eighth-century Britain, Saxon Christians dominate while descendants of Celtic Druids survive in the secluded valley of the title. Set a generation before Book One, The Oath, this novel begins with backstories of the Druid bard priest Herrwn, teacher of Caelym, one of the three protagonists of The Oath, and of Caelym’s origin. His mother, high priestess Caelendra, died giving birth to him nine months after she, as Earth Goddess in the Summer Solstice ritual, mated with a priest as Sun-God. Guided by Herrwn, the physician priest Olywwrd, and the oracle Ossiam, Caelym grows into a precocious youth. Ancient Druid rituals, as imagined by Linden, derive from worship of nature and the Earth Goddess.
In chronicle format, one happening follows another, but drama develops with characters in conflict with traditional beliefs or each other. For example, one young priestess, designated to serve as Earth Goddess in the Summer Solstice, refuses to mate with a priest, as she’s in love with a Celtic smith in the valley. Herrwn finds a clever solution. Ossiam, fearing for their community’s future, considers Saxon English necessary and sends children of the high priestess Feywn, Caelym’s consort, into supposedly goddess-worshipping Saxon households. Tensions between Caelym’s teachers and chief midwife priestess Rhonnon contribute to a dramatic conclusion and leave myriad possibilities for future books in the series.
The Valley is rich with detail and interwoven stories, but initially moves slowly. Several confusing pages open Part I, reading like a foreword before Chapter 1. Each of the nine parts begins with two or three such pages before the plot resumes. Some readers will appreciate learning more about this world and the characters, but either way, the story draws us into the mysterious era that coexisted with Christianity in hidden valleys.