“I welcome the stinging rain and the discomfort it brings me. I deserve much worse.”
Mike Mollman channels the classic epic fantasy feel of Lloyd Alexander and T.H. White with his debut novel, Becoming a Druid. The year is 819, and the land is Pretanni, a fantasy version of medieval Wales and southwest England.
Becoming a Druid is a coming-of-age tale of sorts for our narrator, Grahme, a druid-in-training who must prove himself on a quest to retrieve the legendary ghost orchid from the dreaded Obsidian Lord. Grahme is a treat as narrator, projecting hubris that might mask his inner feelings of inadequacy for the task at hand.
The novel is built around two mentor-mentee relationships, with Grahme sandwiched in the middle: Grahme is a student of the master druid, Boswen, but he also serves as a mentor for his nephew, Figol, who joins the quest.
I love the nature-based magic system in Becoming a Druid, which includes animal communication and animorphing, i.e., humans adopting animal forms. Other druidic masteries include herbology and runes, elemental summoning, and the difficult-to-master weather magic.
The animal morphing action reminds me of Merlyn’s scenes from the first part of T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. Grahme proves himself to be a fluid druid with his animorphing skills, and he has a special penchant for avian forms. Becoming a Druid is a special treat for bird lovers, with a variety of owls, kites, kestrels, puffins, and (appropriately) merlins all making an appearance:
“I let the avian brain take over and I flee north to safety.”
The Welsh-inspired setting and mythology of Becoming a Druid recall Lloyd Alexander’s masterpiece series, The Chronicles of Prydain, except with more druids and fewer assistant pig-keepers. We discover much more of the Pretanni lore and worldbuilding along Grahme’s journey.
Mike Mollman’s writing doesn’t achieve the same level of artistry as Alexander or White, but his straightforward, accessible style works well to convey the tale at hand. Mollman’s choice of first-person, present-tense narration gives a sense of immediacy to the quest. There is a great buildup of action in Becoming a Druid, culminating with a twist that I didn’t see coming.
There is something immensely satisfying about a traditional quest fantasy, and Mike Mollman has done an excellent job with Becoming a Druid. The story continues with To Speak with Elders, the second volume of the Protectors of Pretanni series.