3 out of 4 stars
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Where Rowans Intertwine by Margaret Grant is a historical fiction novel set on the Roman-occupied island of Mona circa 230 A.D.; themes of cultural assimilation, prejudice, reconciliation and spiritual maturity are a sample of the themes explored in the story.
After the death of Nanw, the tribal priestess of the Celwri, her granddaughter and acolyte, Ceridwen, accepts the responsibility of becoming the new priestess and healer. The Celts and the Roman settlers live under the Pax Romana, enforced by encamped legions who trade with the tribes; Ceridwen stokes hostile feelings toward them by refusing to forget that the Romans massacred the Druids of Mona two hundred years before her time. However, she realises that her prejudiced attitude interferes with her spiritual and healing work, and to attempt resolution between their cultures, she decides to wed Marcus, the Roman army surgeon, at her first Beltane as presiding priestess. With the support of Marcus and her tribe, Ceridwen begins to change her bigoted views and heal from bygone battles. As she matures into her roles as priestess, mother and wife, she is better able to guide the Celwri when the rogue former chief, Eithig, threatens the stability of Celtic farmstead and Roman fort alike.
Where Rowans Intertwine is an immersive novel; the author evoked time, place and mingling cultures while balancing the main themes, symbolism, spirituality and love. Historical research along with Grant’s personal experience with nature spirituality and the island indeed intertwined and transported me to the Welsh island Anglesey at the time around 230 A.D. From the list of characters to the informative epilogue, Grant engaged me with the narrative. What I admired most was that the author developed everything of importance to Ceridwen but never heavily emphasized only one aspect of her life. As the novel is in third person, we see both Celtic and Roman perspectives. Ceridwen is a very relatable round character; she has strengths, flaws and vulnerabilities, not to mention wit. My favourite quote is her observation that Eithig “smells of sweat and vainglory”.
Grant even-handedly included beauty and brutality in the novel. Violence and death contrasts with Ceridwen’s peaceful union with nature and the otherworld of her ancient spirituality. Given that Ceridwen is an intelligent woman, her relationship with Marcus is understandably cerebral and political as well as loving. The romance is important, but does not overwhelm the story. The writing is rich with symbolism and archaic Brythonic words to lend authenticity to the dialogue.
There aren’t many problems with Where Rowans Intertwine. Another round of editing would have taken care of the comma problem – they were often in the wrong part of sentences, which made the read slightly choppy. The layout of the book was professional, but since I think the writing needed rounding off before publication, I’m rating Where Rowans Intertwine 3 out of 4 stars. I wholeheartedly recommend this novel to historical fiction enthusiasts, history buffs and readers who appreciate a well-rounded, likeable set of characters.
Where Rowans Intertwine
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