Priestess of the Fire Temple is more of a primer than a novel. Ellen Evert Hopman, an American druid and master herbalist, has written several works of fiction that imagine what might have happened during the time when druidry was systematically obliterated by christianity. This book tells the story of Aislinn, a princess, druid-trained, whose father, the king, entrusts her education to the druids who have always worked with the spirits of his land. Aislinn’s mother pays her no attention–the child is as unruly as her bright red hair and the cool blond ice princess of a queen has eyes only for her son.
As soon as Aislinn turns fourteen, her father announces her marriage to the son of a neighboring ruler as a diplomatic effort to create peace betwen the warring tribes. And she is bundled up, away from all she knows and loves, and carried off to a cold country by a husband who has no use for her. Life quickly becomes complicated when the prince takes a concubine, the land falls into famine and the army is defeated. Aislinn knows the old ways will restore balance but no one is interested in her knowledge.
Aislinn becomes a prisoner of war and meets her soulmate, a fellow pagan who does his best to protect her and is killed in a battle as Aislinn hides nearby. She escapes alone, knowing that she will be a valuable prize to bring down a kingdom if she is captured–and her adventures shift into a mythical hero’s journey as she travels back to her home in disguise, goes to a druid settlement to study with the fire priestess, discovers a shocking truth about her mother, learns the secrets of honoring the land and communing with the elements, hunts for healing herbs and observes the seasonal celebrations and the astrological calculations that predict eclipses and events in the heavens. The passion for her slain lover haunts her, even as she envisions a new life for herself as a druid priestess. And then she receives word that her father is dying and has sent for her.
The book is written in plain language with plenty of Irish that, thankfully, is explained in a glossary. The vernacular seems a bit contemporary for the historical setting of the story but it is fairly easy to follow. Aislinn is an intrepid soul but she is constantly manipulated throughout the story, which is somewhat jarring. I was fascinated by the information about druidry–there are few records of what actually occurred in those lost times and modern druids have sifted through fact, myth, and fable to reimagine practices, prayers and beliefs. So, I liked it because Hopman speaks with authority and the world she creates is logical and engaging. If you have no interest at all in druidry, I’m not sure what your reaction would be. Marion Zimmer Bradley weaves tales full of poetry and magic that captue the Merlins, Vivianes and Morgans in vivid detail. Hopkins writes educational stories, one of the traditional duties of the bard, if a lesser art form.
Priestess of the Fire Temple: A Druid’s Tale Ellen Evert Hopman | Llewellyn Publications 2012