REVIEW: BECOMING A DRUID (PROTECTORS OF PRETANNI #1)
HOW I RATED IT
4/5 While the sort of classical adventure quest narrative isn't always my thing, I have to say that I had quite a nice time with this, even if I wasn't entirely invested in every aspect of the story.
Grahme serves as our main character for this story. As the title implies, he is in the process of becoming a Druid, but he's had a rough track record with his mentors and his future within the Druid ranks is very much in question when one of the nine Druid lords takes him under his wing. At first, I can't say that I found Grahme all that likeable. He is petulant and frequently disobeys direct orders from his superiors. He also had a bad temper. This dislike made it a little hard for me to feel too invested in the stakes that he was up against in the early parts of the quest that he is assigned to in order to prove himself worthy of being a full druid. Over the course of his journey, Grahme meets a variety of other characters from his family, other Druid clans, thieves, a mysterious merchant and people from a dark kingdom that is infamous for being home to people born with mind-control magic. Some of these were definitely more memorable and likeable than others, but my favorite side character definitely has to be Grahme's nephew who accompanies him for a decently long stretch of time. Even though it would not have made sense for the boy to have continued on the journey, I was sad when he was written out of the adventure since having him around made Grahme a lot more likeable for me. Grahme also has a romantic interest who comes in at a later part of the story and while the dynamics that created were interesting, I wasn't particularly bought into this subplot at all and actually felt like the story might have been stronger without it. One thing that works a lot to the story's benefit is that Grahme seems to mature quite a bit by the end of the story, thanks in no small part to the losses he's suffered and the trials he's endured. Seeing him grow into a much more serious and responsible person was something I found to be appropriately rewarding.
As the title indicates this is a story about Druids. While this type of mage isn't necessarily rare, it's also not often that Druid magic is given the spotlight in this way. The "animorphing" is handled brilliantly and I think this lesser-seen kind of magic will be a big draw for many. I also appreciated that there were other types of magic that the book explored. There is a dark mind-control magic that a number of both friendly and antagonistic characters have as well as weather and elemental magic. I wouldn't say that there are any "magic systems" in play here, but I think for a story like this, it was much better that the magic was "soft" (A.K.A. not defined to the point where it almost feels like a science).
Grahme doesn't stay in any one place for too long, but he also rarely passes through somewhere without there being some kind of episode that gives us a chance to explore it a little. While this type of storytelling where the narrative hops from one place to the next isn't always my cup of tea, I did feel like each location had a distinct vibe to it and offered interesting characters and/or environments. I definitely appreciated the variety of moving from calm woodland zones to bustling cities, dingy prisons, and dark caverns. No one place ever overstayed its welcome and the near-constant motion helped things from getting stale, though it did also keep me from developing attachments to any particular locations.
As you might have guessed, this is sort of a classical, "go fetch a magical item of great power and return" type of setup. Due to this adventure-quest being the main narrative anchor, the story had sort of a nostalgic feel to it in the way that reading classic fantasy might. That said, the way action and magic is depicted had a much more modern vibe. It's an interesting mix that I though worked pretty well and made this feel rather special. The morality in this story was also interesting to me because on on hand, there are some characters who are very clearly "the bad guys," but then there are the Druids who aren't always the purest of the pure either. Throughout the story, we get a lot of insight into Druid politics. The "Nine Lords" are a somewhat dysfunctional bunch with infighting, deception, and general distrust. If there wasn't an "evil empire" type of threat looming over them, I am actually not sure if I would have found myself really routing for the Druid groups as much. I'd be interested to know if their moral grayness is expanded upon in future books since that might be a cool concept to play with going forward.
I had a nice time with the story overall and found the questing to be a fairly relaxing aspect of it. Unfortunately, I don't think the stakes ever felt as intense as I think they were meant to outside of a gripping heist sequence that occurs somewhat early on in the story. A lot of this is probably due to the fact that I didn't get too invested in many of the characters rather than any actual issues with the prose or pacing.
I rather liked this narrator, particularly because his voice/accent sometimes reminded me of Sam from THE LORD OF THE RINGS films. That said, I did feel like a lot of the characters sounded kind of the same. Some may also want to know that you will frequently hear him inhaling. This audible breathing is more pronounced in some chapters than others and it didn't really bother me too much, but I imagine in might drive some people crazy, so just be aware that this is a thing. On a more positive note, I have to give this guy some serious credit for performing an entire song in the middle of the book. I don't know if I've ever heard this done before, but he nailed it.
BECOMING A DRUID will be a great read for anyone who enjoys modern renditions of classical fantasy storytelling as well as those who just like druids. I found this to be a satisfying read and this world has enough potential with unexplored places and unmet peoples that I imagine the next books in the series will be just as good.
(+) Lots of awesome Druid magic with several different types of magic detailed
(+) Action and adventure throughout
(+) Some memorable characters
(+) Detailed lore pertaining to the old gods and various mystical peoples
(+) An ending that ties everything together while leaving the door open for what's next
(+) Grahme develops from an irritatingly petulant apprentice into a battle-hardened Druid
(-) A romance that didn't really do anything for me
(-) I found my attention drifting at certain parts of the story
(/) Highs and lows with the narration that will likely draw different reactions from different people