Cullen Knight is a bit of a loner, a book worm, and a foster child, but he has dreams of dragons and great quests. Little does he know he’ll have his own brush with magic. When he accidentally finds a wand in the redwood forest he walks through to go to and from school, his life is changed in ways that seem more fictional than real. By picking up the wand, his mind and body are fused with that of the Druid Rowan.
Rowan, who over a millennia ago escaped into his wand when his people were being attacked, must find his lost love. She, who has had to live through all the years, isn’t the woman she once was. Fiana, Rowan’s wife of less than an hour, at first used her own magical power to stay alive, but when that proved to be insufficient she resorted to any means necessary, even compromising her very soul.
Cullen is immediately a sympathetic character: he’s geeky and gawkish, he loves books, and has a less than desirable home life. He’s a foster child and his “family” treats him more like a servant than as a member of the household. This is perhaps a bit cliché, finding a spot somewhere between Harry Potter and Matilda, but that didn’t put me off overmuch. Many preteen, teen and young adult readers will easily be able to relate to the outsider/loner/geek because they will see some of themselves in him — I know I saw aspects of my awkward adolescence through Cullen’s bespectacled eyes. Though he isn’t the first character the reader is introduced to, he is the one to which the reader will most likely latch on to and want to protect.
To a seasoned reader, some of the characters will be stereotypes you’ve seen before. For example, the sidekicks to our hero are both attractive young ladies, smart but complete opposites, almost clairvoyant when necessary but always there to smack Cullen upside the head if he gets mushy eyed over the young but somewhat motherly teacher. There’s the savior teacher, who feels some need to protect Cullen and nurture him when all of the other adults in his life abandon him either tragically or emotionally, and the father figure through Rowan who is a comforting and protecting presence.
However, to the intended audience, these characters are all a little quirky in their own way, recognizable to their view of life, and absolutely appropriate to the story and, unlike some clichés, not annoying in the least. Stereotypes aren’t necessarily a bad thing; in Rowan of the Wood, I found I was able to see aspects of people I knew growing up in the faces of the characters, and I think that’s exactly what a teen reader would feel as well. My only wish would be that in the future there be a bit more character development, so the characters step out of their stereotypes and stand on their own two feet.
While I’m not usually a fan of the Celtic fantasy subgenre (can’t tell you why exactly), this hit the right balance between Celtic myth and modern reality. I was really intrigued by the idea of Rowan and Cullen sharing one body and how that conflict is played out. I really enjoyed watching Cullen start to come into himself and look forward to see where he goes in the following books. If you know a young loner bookworm, please put this book in their hands. Stereotypes or no, this book really captures the imagination of a young person trying to figure out their way in the world. Sometimes the only escape is a good book, and sometimes reality is even more fantastic. Rowan of the Wood gets a solid B+ from me. I eagerly look forward to future installments.