Gripping Historical Fiction - The Druid Chronicles by A.M. Linden
“A. M. Linden brings her imagined druid community to life with a skillful combination of research and informed guesswork. The Valley provides an intriguing glimpse into an 8th century Britain that might have been.” –Juliet Marillier, author of the Sevenwaters and Warrior Bards series
In the wake of a betrayal that threatens an end to their way of life, the last members of a secluded pagan cult send the youngest of their remaining priests in search of Annwr, their chief priestess’s sister, who was abducted by a Saxon war band fifteen years ago. With only a rudimentary grasp of English and the ambiguous guidance of an oracle’s prophecy, Caelym manages to find Annwr living in a hut on the grounds of a Christian convent.
Annwr has spent her years of captivity caring for the timid Aleswina, an orphaned Saxon princess who was consigned to the cloistered convent by her cousin, King Gilberth, after he assumed her father’s throne. Just as Caelym and Annwr are about leave together, Aleswina learns that Gilberth, a tyrant known for his cruelty and vicious temper, means to take her out of the convent and marry her. Terrified, she flees with the two Druids–beginning a heart-pounding adventure that unfolds in ways none of them could have anticipated.
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Llwddawanden is a hidden sanctuary where remnants of a once-powerful pagan cult carry on their ancient ritual practices, supported by a small but faithful following of servants, craftsmen, and laborers.
Cut off from the outside world by both geography and conviction, the Druids of Llwddawanden continue to venerate the Great Mother Goddess and to view themselves as the first-born and favorite of Her mortal children. While the belief that the most important of all divine beings gave birth to their ancestors and that Her spirit inhabits the body of their highest priestess is a tenuous conclusion in view of their reduced lot in life, the Druids of Llwddawanden believe it and are, for the most part, committed to carrying on the traditions handed down to them by their forbears.
Herrwn, the shrine’s chief priest and master bard, has the responsibility of overseeing the education of Caelym, the orphaned son of the cult’s previous chief priestess, as well as keeping the peace within the upper ranks of their order—two tasks that grow more difficult as the rivalry over which of the three highest priests will claim Caelym as his disciple grows, and as mounting conflicts between the current chief priestess and her only living daughter threaten to rend the fabric of a society that has endured for more than a millennium.
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A Q&A with author
Who are your main characters? Tell as a little about what makes them special.
There are three main protagonists in The Valley: Herrwn, the shrine’s chief priest and master bard, Ossiam, its oracle, and Olyrrwd, its physician.
Herrwn is a gifted orator and harpist, able to hold listeners spellbound with his enthralling recitations of ancient sagas. When not performing, he consciously conducts himself with the solemn dignity that he believes his position as the shrine’s chief priest requires—hoping that his example, along with his repeated admonishments, will be sufficient to quell the growing antagonism between Ossiam and Olyrrwd.
Ossiam has learned divination from masters of the art and instinctively grasped the unspoken fundamental that the point was not to be truthful, but to be convincing. While superficially devoted to the worship of the supreme mother goddess, Ossiam is driven by his lust for power and is stymied by having been born male in a society ruled by women.
Olyrrwd is afflicted with a form of dwarfism that renders his limbs abnormally short; his small stature, however, is offset by his keen intelligence and a razor-sharp wit that belays his deep compassion for all living things (with the possible exception of Ossiam). While not openly challenging the supernatural explanations of the world around them, Olyrrwd counts more on the objective effects of his actual treatments than on the incantations that accompany them. A physician aware of his own mortality, Olyrrwd’s overwhelming determination is to prepare the most capable of the priests’ disciples to take his place in the shrine’s healing chamber.
Which character was the most challenging to create?
The character I found the most challenging to create was the priestess Feywn, whose inadequacies as the shrine’s ruler were central to the story.
From the first, it had been clear to me what the three main male protagonists thought about their cult’s foundational premise that the spirit of the supreme mother goddess to whom their shrine was devoted inhabited the body of their chief priestess. Herrwn believes it. Olyrrwd is skeptical. Ossiam believes only in its usefulness for manipulating those who do believe it. What I was never sure of is whether Feywn believes herself to be divinely endowed until the latter days of her reign when her increasingly slippery hold on sanity finally gives way.
A second problem in creating this character who was, and remains, enigmatic to me was trying to convey her ambiguous role—neither a heroine nor a villainess but an incidental victim of the circumstance that propelled her into the position of wielding absolute authority without having the capacity to provide any real leadership.
In developing The Valley’s other characters, both major and minor, I was able to satisfy myself that I knew them and what they would do next. With Feywn, I was never quite sure and faced writing her scenes with something of the same trepidation I imagine Herrwn felt when it was his job to bring her news she didn’t want to hear.
Which scene or chapter in the The Valley is your favorite?
My favorite scene in The Valley is the one in which Caelym, the series’ main protagonist, arrives at the priests’ classroom to begin his Druidic training.
Roman sources describe Druids’ education as taking twenty years and, reasoning that this would have to start early, I had decided to have Caelym leave his nursery to begin his training at the age of six. This is Caelym’s first significant appearance in the story and I’d set the scene of the three Druid elders, Herrwn, Ossiam, and Olyrrwd, waiting for him to get there with a brief frame narrative in the previous chapter recounting Herrwn’s dreamily nostalgic recollection of his own first day in class.
As I saw it, however, Caelym, being the orphaned son of the shrine’s previous chief priestess, would have been pampered and catered to by his doting nursemaid, and that he would have reacted to the news that he was being taken away from her with the kind of flailing temper tantrum that would have always served to get him out of anything he didn’t want to do before this.
Besides having the chance to vicariously indulge in Caelym’s full-bore kicking and screaming fit, writing this chapter was an opportunity to show what each of the three elder Druids was made of and I have always felt that this was among the best scenes I ever wrote.
What compelled you to write The Druid Chronicles?
The Valley, which was to become the heart of The Druid Chronicles, started out as the backstory to the other books in the series. Having already completed a rough draft of the larger work based on a superficial and largely inaccurate understanding of early British history, I belatedly discovered that the Celtic population of the British Isles had converted to Christianity during the Roman colonial period and that, despite their being mentioned in folklore, there is no documentation that there were any Druids left by the time in which I’d set my story. The idea of a secret sanctuary where at least some of them might have taken refuge was, at first, a matter of necessity, but became compelling as the concept of a hidden valley in which rites and rituals dating back to the Iron Age still governed daily life took hold.
From there, things changed. Instead of being an exercise in historical revisionism, The Valley turned out to be an open door to a world that I got to create from scratch—composing its chants, making up its myths, and hatching its plot twists as the priests and priestesses of Llwddawanden struggle to maintain a way of life threatened by hostile armies and an alien god.
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
It’s my hope that people will find as much enjoyment in reading The Valley as I did in writing it, and that those who are also writers will take away an understanding of themselves as modern-day bards, descended—as I imagined Herrwn to be—from a long line of story-tellers going at least as far back as the first campfires.
“With the attention to detail, explanation of ancient rituals, and the mythology within the clan’s legends, this novel builds a community, exploring a people about which little is actually known. It’s an extraordinary portrayal, breathing life into a long-dead civilization….Highly recommended!” –Chanticleer Book Reviews
Ann Margaret Linden was born in Seattle, Washington, but grew up on the east coast of the United States before returning to the Pacific Northwest as a young adult. She has undergrad-uate degrees in anthropology and in nursing and a master’s degree as a nurse practitioner. After working in a variety of acute care and community health settings, she took a position in a program for children with special health care needs where her responsibilities included writing clinical reports, parent educational materials, provider newsletters, grant submissions and other program related materials. The Druid Chronicles began as a somewhat whimsical decision to write something for fun and ended up becoming a lengthy journey that involved Linden taking adult education creative writing courses, researching early British history, and traveling to England, Scotland, and Wales. Retired from nursing, she lives with her husband and their cat and dog in the northwest corner of Washington State.
Book Title: The Oath
Series: The Druid Chronicles, Book 1
Publication Date: June 15, 2021
Genre: Historical Fiction
Book Title: The Valley
Series: The Druid Chronicles, Book 2
Publication Date: June 28, 2022
Genre: Historical Fiction/Medieval
Content Rating: PG-13 (1): Non-Descriptive Sex; Some Violence
Blog Tour Giveaway
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The giveaway is open to the US only and ends on July 22, 2022. You must be 18 or older to enter. This giveaway is sponsored by the author and hosted by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. Void where prohibited by law.
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