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Note: I voluntarily chose to review this book and was gifted a copy to do so. All thoughts and opinions are honest and my own.
So without further ado:
A curse that lasted 900 years, a legend that lasted forever.
From the Iron Age of Ireland to the dawn of Christianity, this epic retelling traverses the realms of magic and sorcery. From the fort of Fionnachaidh to the watery wastes of Sruth na Maoile, it tells of the downfall of an ancient race and the children caught in its wake.
Grieving for the loss of his wife, King Lir marries her younger sister, Aoife. Jealous of her husband’s children, she calls on the power of the Aos Sí and their Phantom Queen, making a bargain that will cost her life.
The children, turned to swans, are cast out upon the waves in an adventure that sees empires rise and fall as centuries pass. Eventually, they must choose between the world they once knew and a future they do not understand.
Let me just preface by saying, historical fantasy is not a genre I traverse often, so going in I didn’t have many points of reference–I sometimes thought of The Lord of the Rings as I was reading, but only because they both had detailed world-building. They really aren’t in the same ballpark, as LotR is hard fantasy based on real cultures whereas Lir is supposed to take place in our world. The point is, as a reader, I went in pretty blind.
With that said, I enjoyed the friggin’ heck out of this book. Everything I’m about to say critique-wise comes from a place of respect. This was a beautifully-written story and an impressive amalgamation of history, fantasy, and Irish mythology that–at its core–tells the story of a broken family.
I cannot imagine the amount of research Woolley had to do in regards to Irish history and mythology. It is so intricately woven into the fabric of the story that it’s hard to tell where mythology ends and fiction begins. With that said, there was a level of knowledge I felt I should’ve had upon entering the story. Lir kind of assumes that you know a little about ancient Ireland, and that made navigating through the names of important places and people a little tricky at times.
Also, my dumb ass didn’t read the synopsis before reading, so I had no idea we were in ancient Ireland until about halfway through the book. But that’s my bad, not Lir‘s.
There were only two things that really took me out of the story. The first was all the old Celtic names and spellings. I had no idea how to pronounce any of them, so Fionnuala (the oldest daughter of Lir) was Fi-on-noo-la, Aodh (her brother) was Ay-ode, so on and so forth. I can’t even imagine how egregiously I mispronounced everything all the time.
Except Brendan. Pretty sure I got him right.
It would’ve been really helpful to have a pronunciation guide at the beginning of the book. Woolley graciously supplies a family tree so we can keep track of who’s the child of whom, so I was kind of surprised that there wasn’t a pronunciation guide, too.
Maybe I’m just too American. (ba-dum-tiss)
Other than that, the only other thing that pulled me out of the story was not knowing–or at least not being sure–how old the children of Lir were until well into the book. This is pretty minor, and I honestly could’ve missed it in the beginning, but it would’ve really helped to contextualize their development, especially Fionnuala and Aodh, who start reaching sexual maturity before their curse.
The story also does feel a little slow in the beginning because we’re setting up the world for a while, but it didn’t make or break it for me. Again, you’re talking to someone who doesn’t read a whole lot of fantasy, but I’d say it’s pretty fast-paced in comparison to, say, LotR.
So, pretty minor, technical stuff. Anything else would be needlessly nit-picky, and you could be that way with just about anything, even your favorite book ever.
I thought it was an interesting (not bad, just interesting) decision to have every chapter be in a different character’s perspective. Now, of course, there are some characters we hear more from–Fionnuala and Aodh, for instance–but you also get a lot of minor characters’ POVs, and as time passes in the story and characters come and go, new POVs get introduced.
Now, it’s kind of a risky move, bouncing between so many POVs, and at first I was a little disoriented, but as the story unfolded I began to understand why Woolley made that choice: a story like Lir told entirely in, say, Fionnuala’s perspective would’ve been incomprehensibly boring. Well, she is a swan for, like, three-fourths of the book.
By not simply reverting to third-person omniscient, Lir could explore specific characters’ thoughts and feelings, which grounded you more in the world of the story. And impressively enough, every new character’s perspective was in service of the main plot–never did you have to follow a mildly interesting B-plot unless it somehow contributed to the greater story directly.
Kind of a side note, but even though I’d say most of the characters’ POVs were interesting, I’d have to say my favorites were Aoife and Mannanán. Aoife was our villain, but instead of making her a heartless evil stepmother, we get to spend time inside her head and learn that she’s a complicated, tormented person. Sympathetic villains are always a win for me.
Mannanán I just got a kick out of for some reason. He’s the main characters’ half-brother and basically the Irish equivalent of Charon, the ferryman of the dead. I don’t use this phrase often, but Mannanán is such a mood. I just love that guy. He’s such a curmudgeon for most of the book, but by the end, you see how much he actually loved his half-siblings.
When I finished reading this book, I applauded it in my head. If they ever made a movie or a mini-series about it, I would be first in line to watch it because (done right) it would be visually spectacular. You can just tell that Woolley poured her heart and soul into this, because it shows in every detail, every corner of its world-building. Woolley excels at vivid, descriptive imagery, and it really grounds you in this world and where it is in time without making it feel “a long, long time ago in a land far, far away,” if you know what I mean. The magic is believable. The people are believable. The history is believable. And it brought in some really powerful themes about time and change, loss and love, that really made it more than a retelling of an old folktale.
The Children of Lir is an intricately woven tapestry. Never once that I can think of did the world-building feel like a clunky info-dump. The mythology was rich and vibrant, the magic effectively haunting. Lush imagery, complex, human characters, and a deep connection to history all made this book an impressive read.
I don’t want to do a rating system for books, I just want to say whether or not I’d recommend it and why. I recommend The Children of Lir to anyone who enjoys fantasy epics, folktale or fairytale retellings, and/or who wants to learn how to weave mythology into history in order to build a believable yet fantastical world.
The Children of Lir is now available to purchase on Amazon.
About the Author
Marion Grace Woolley writes dark fiction and historical fantasy from her home in Kigali. When she’s not writing her own material, she edits technical reports, ghostwrites biographies, and is attempting to build the first piano in Rwanda.
Marion is offering the opportunity for my readers to WIN a copy of The Children of Lir! One reader will receiver a paperback copy and two will receive Kindle copies as part of the giveaway. Click here to enter!
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UK entries only, 18yrs+.
Winner’s will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified ASAP.
Winner’s will have 7 days to claim their prize before an alternative winner is chosen.
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Entries close at Midnight on 22nd August 2019 and only valid entries will be included in the draw.
All images courtesy of Fraser’s Fun House and Marion Grace Woolley