Perfect start of a new series.
The Oath (The Druid Chronicles, Book One) by A. M. Linden released last year in the Historical Fiction genre.
When the last of members of a secretive Druid cult are forced to abandon their hidden sanctuary, they 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.
Sexual assault, child abuse
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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 undergraduate 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.
The series as a whole.
The Druid Chronicles began with an image that came to me of a tall, dark-hooded Druid and a short, nervous nun having a conversation in a small underground chamber. As those two characters took form, their respective stories, both before and after this interchange, became threads that weave through the five books of the series.
Caelym, whose oath gave the first book its name, is among the last members of a secret Druid cult. He has been sent on a mission to find and rescue their chief priestess’s sister, abducted fifteen years earlier, following a battle between their people and a Saxon army. Aleswina, who it turns out is a novice who has not yet taken her vows, is the daughter of the king who led the Saxons’ attack and died in its aftermath.
The priestess for whom Caelym is searching is Annwr, the chronicles’ third foundational character. Following her capture, Annwr became Aleswina’s nursemaid, and came to love the orphaned princess. Aleswina loves Annwr in return, and insisted on taking her along when she entered religious training. The depth of the ties between Annwr and Aleswina become evident at Caelym’s arrival. Forced to choose between her devotion to the Christian Saxon she has raised as a daughter and returning to her people and to her own daughter, Annwr decides to go with Caelym, and, though heart-broken, Aleswina sets her free. Then, as Caelym and Annwr are preparing to leave, Aleswina learns that her cousin, King Gilberth, a tyrant known for his cruelty and vicious temper, means to take her out of the convent and marry her. Terrified, she runs to Annwr, who refuses to leave her behind despite Caelym’s objections, and the three form an unlikely alliance on a journey beset with dangers on all sides. While the following books shift in time and place, they are linked by characters who, like Caelym, Annwr, and Aleswina, have ongoing parts to play in the series as a whole.
Book Two, The Valley, begins a generation earlier and is set in Llwddawanden, where a dwindling number of Druids carry on their ancient ritual practices. In addition to Caelym, who first appears as a six-year-old boy about to enter training in the priest’s classroom, and Annwr, then a high-spirited young priestess-in-training, pivotal characters whose influence will be felt throughout the rest of the saga include Annwr’s sister Feywn, Herrwn, the shrine’s chief priest and master bard, Ossiam, an enigmatic oracle, and Olyrrwd, a cynical physician. Already under pressure from the relentless spread of Christianity, rising tensions within the cult’s highest ranks and growing discontent among the servants and laborers who support them threaten to end a way of life that has endured for over a millennium.
The themes of conflicted loyalties in a larger context of a world torn by ethnic and religious strife as well as by both open and covert battles for power are continued and amplified in Book Three. The Sheriff introduces a Saxon warrior who fights his way up through the ranks, only to lose his command to a better-born rival. Sent into political exile as the sheriff and tax-collector in Codswallow, an impoverished shire on the furthest corner of the kingdom of Atheldom, Stefan is confronted with marauding brigands, corrupt local officials, and a hostile populace, with only a motley band of followers left over from his last campaign. Stefan, however, has survived ten years in battle, and is not about to be defeated, even if his success requires making a pact with the keeper of the shire’s only inn, a Briton he suspects of being a secret pagan. Even with that clandestine aid, Stefan’s struggle to gain control over the local populace remains frustrating, so when he is unexpectedly summoned to join the search for Princess Aleswina, the betrothed bride of the king of a neighboring realm, he takes this as his chance to get his former command back and is drawn into the web of intrigue that lays behind the princess’s mysterious disappearance.
Only mentioned briefly in Book Three, Caelym resurfaces in Book four, The Quarry, as he and Annwr continue their journey. It is in this book that their fate becomes entangled with Stefan’s, as the Saxon sheriff moves on from his hunt for Aleswina to track down the heretics condemned as sorcerers and witches—unaware that in his determination to capture the fleeing Druids he is riding into a trap laid for him by his estranged wife and her politically powerful lover.
Among the fundamental issues raised throughout The Druid Chronicles is whether the bonds that people are able to form across the divisions of religious, ethnic, and political animosities can overcome the cruelties that warring factions are so clearly capable of inflicting on each other. While Book Five, The Challenge, does not offer a definitive answer to this universal question, it does conclude the series with the answers that the surviving protagonists have found for themselves.
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