Druid's Bane is the first volume in the Arkaelyon Chronicles, written by Phillip Henderson.
The Illandian Spring Tournament is about to reach its crescendo. With the king’s only daughter, Danielle de Brie, and her twin brother, Kane, preparing to face each other in the tourney ring for the deciding match the citizens and nobles of Arkaelyon’s capital city are in a fever of excited speculation.
Determined to free herself from the fear her twin brother has always provoked in her and to show the world that men such as Kane de Brie can be defeated, Danielle has every intention of making her brother’s title her own.
But even as the two royals climb the stairs to Illandia’s famous dueling ring, Danielle has no idea that a rescind coven of druids are about to change her world forever or that the deep animosity Kane and her share for one another is fated to plunge the realm into civil war.
Danielle is completely ignorant of the ancient gift that dwells in her bloodline. An odd dream is the only hint she has of the dangerous manipulation that is stirring in the shadows of her father’s realm and her involvement in it. But when she makes passing mention of the dream to the Lord Protector, Father Joseph’s response and the secrets he and a priestly order protect are destined to set her on a desperate and perilous path to save her father’s realm from an unimaginable evil.
Druid's Bane is very much an epic novel, not only physically at 724 pages but also in scope, it's a very well written tale with a deep back story, a twisting plot and a large cast of wonderfully rich characters. There's a mix of politics, religion and good versus evil blended into the story line along with a generous amount of action.
The main characters are very three dimensional, engaging and resplendently human, while the fantasy elements are nicely down played, think more Robin Hobb than JRR Tolkien, with a similiar darker, grittier feel than the average high fantasy novel.
I love the interplay between the royal siblings, especially Danielle and Kane, ultimately both pawns in a much larger game and highlighting the fragility of the human condition, it's very bitter-sweet to see them both go down opposite path's, forced further and further into the people destiny says they must be. The prose is quite lyrical in places and feels almost period drama in some of the conversations, it's a very detailed and imaginative read with a steady, studious pace. In a few areas this can bog the book down a little, a minor criticism though and one many otherwise talented writers fall foul of (including some big names I won't mention).
I very much like the detailed world building, although on the surface there is this medieval feudal system, there are many more modern political ideologies vying for exposure. This can be somewhat evidenced by the principal protagonist herself - a fighting princess no less, far removed from any fairy tale. I do very much like the authors style, a distinct voice that has an sharp edge to it, more realistic and heavier feel than many writing in the genre and yet with flowery conversations you would expect from the pen of Susanna Clarke or even Jane Austen.
Ultimately Druid's Bane is incredible beginning to what promises to be a rewarding fantasy epic, a rich and immersive tale told by a real wordsmith. Recommended
Written on 16th January 2011 by Ant.
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