Noted science fiction writer Norman Spinrad is switching genres with his latest book, The Druid King. This historical novel (which might be classified as speculative fiction) is the story of Vercingetorix, a Gaul who stood up to Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire. The Druid King isn't alternate history, so from the start the ending is assured. With the plot fixed, Spinrad occupies the reader with a rich variety of mostly male characters, fragmentary and ever-changing alliances and a touch of the fantastic: Vercingetorix not only leads his tribe, he is also a druid, and, like Caesar, he occasionally has visions.
Caesar wants to use Gaul as a political springboard to Rome but his invasion sparks Vercingetorix's opposition. The two men are therefore the cause and ongoing grounds for war: they know neither will surrender, so they use their armies ruthlessly. The battles in the fields, forests and cities are horrifyingly described in prose that occasionally flashes purple ("What a glorious sight! Shouting, screaming, a mighty barbarian horde in full battle frenzy.")Spinrad is at his best describing the towns and cities of Gaul and the changes brought by trade and war. No matter how civilized Roman occupation is, the reader's sympathies remain with the underdog tribes who will eventually join under one leader, Vercingetorix, as Gauls. The Druid King is an uncompromising political tragedy which forces readers to weigh the human cost of war. Gavin J. Grant writes from Northampton, Massachusetts.