The Druid King by Norman Spinrad is an interesting book to classify. It appears that it was originally marketed as historical fiction, yet I found it in the sci-fi/fantasy section at Half Priced Books. In the end, I would put it at about 90% historical fiction with 10% fantasy thrown into the mix.
The book is the story of Vercingetorix, the charismatic leader of the Gauls during the time of Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul, and a national hero of France to this day. Vercingetorix is the son of Kelltil, the leader of one of the larger Gallic tribes, coming to manhood in a time of increasing Roman influence in the lands of the Gaul. The death of his father sends Vercingetorix fleeing into the forest and into the tutelage of the Druids. Guided by the Arch Druid and inspired by visions of the ending of an age, Vercingetorix becomes both a man of action and a man of knowledge.
An early alliance with Caesar ends and Vercingetorix sets out to unite the tribes of Gaul and rid the land of everything Roman. The rest is the story of two military geniuses clashing and a struggle against inevitability. The book ends with an epic battle that military historians still study today, in a remarkable sequence of battle and vision.
I picked this book off the shelf because it looked interesting, and it was both interesting and very informative. However, this book fails to be the book it could be. One of the most intriguing aspects of Vercingetorix is his education as a Druid, yet relatively little of the Druid tradition is explained satisfactorily. The language of the story ranges from too dry to too flowery, and the book is easily put aside. But, the interplay of the two great leaders is well done and their charisma does infect the reader. The book ends with a bang that improved my opinion of it dramatically.
The Druid King is a book I will recommend, but with conditions. Those interested in military, Roman, or Gallic history are encouraged to pick this book up, realizing that it is not the best written historical fiction available. Anyone who wants a story of a tragic hero up against incredible odds fighting the most powerful military force in the world, a story that happened for real in this world 2000 years ago, should also consider The Druid King, with the above reservations in mind. On my rating scale of 1-10, where 5 is a take-it-or-leave-it book, 10 is unsurpassed, and anything below 5 is typically not recommended, The Druid King scores a 5 – 5.5, with the extra 0.5 due the last 40 pages.