A Song of Flight

A Song of Flight by Juliet Marillier

Genre: fantasy

I read it as a(n): paperback

Length: 446 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

In this third instalment of Marillier’s Warrior Bards series once again gives readers several separate but connected plots, woven together as skillfully as any Celtic knot. In one, Prince Aolu and his bodyguard Galen are attacked simultaneously by humans and Crow Folk. Galen is badly injured and Aolu disappears. As a result, Dau leads a team from Swan Island, the elite and secret warrior training site, to aid in the search for Aolu. Liobhan is excluded from the initial team because of her relationship with Dau but also because Galen is her brother; she can’t be unbiased as a Swan Island warrior ought to be in this case. Adding to the intrigue is Brocc, the half-fey brother of Liobhan and Galen, who is exiled from the Otherworld and Eirne’s side, along with their daughter Niamh. Brocc’s crime, according to his Elf Queen wife, was trying to understand and help the Crow Folk, whom Brocc believes are not evil but are lost and damaged in some way. 

This one was interesting because we got to see Liobhan in a leadership role unlike anything else she’s done so far. Initially, she is the warrior primarily in charge of training a new recruit, Elka, to Swan Island. Later, she is put in charge of her own team on a mission. Liobhan being who she is, though, she quickly takes the mission on a whole new path after she and Elka see a vision in which Brocc is attempting to turn the Crow Folk into an army that he can control. Liobhan changes the mission without giving the full details to her elders, risking her position on the Island entirely. 

Dau is also growing as a person. He, too, was placed in charge of the initial team to be sent from the Island to search for Aolu. When they arrive at Winterfells, the prince’s home, Dau finds Galen, who is being tended by his and Liobhan’s healer mother Blackthorn, ready to tear off on his own to search for Aolu. Galen believes – rightly as it turns out – that the prince is in the Otherworld and he is determined to find him, with or without help. 

Brocc, meanwhile, is in shock from being banished by his wife, the Elf Queen Eirne. She exiled their infant daughter with him, so Brocc is struggling to care for her in the middle of nowhere and while still attempting to connect with Shadow, one of the Crow Folk he had helped rescue in the previous novel. Brocc knows there is more to the Crow Folk than mindless violence and evil. His actions highlight the optimism and compassion displayed by the best of humanity. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, though it didn’t grip me as strongly as the previous one, A Dance with Fate, did. I liked the scenes with Brocc a lot more in this one since he mainly wasn’t dealing with Eirne, a character I really dislike. It’s good when characters are varied enough that there is a fairly central figure that you just can’t stand, but I found Eirne to be so irritating that I caught myself skimming the sections set in the Otherworld too quickly if she was in a scene. That wasn’t an issue in this book. 

Marillier left plenty of room for more books in the series, and I hope she does continue it! I think my favorite single book of hers is Daughter of the Forest, but my favorite overall series was Blackthorn and Grim. I love that they are still woven into the Warrior Bards stories as well. I look forward to whatever she decides to give her readers next!

A Dance with Fate

A Dance with Fate by Juliet Marillier

Genre: historical fantasy

I read it as a(n): paperback

Length: 491 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The second installation in Marillier’s Warrior Bards series begins with a fighting competition and tragic accident. Liobhan, daughter of Blackthorn and Grim, and Dau, both Swan Island warriors, are participating in a training exercise when Dau slips, hits his head hard, and wakes up blind. Dau’s father, a local chieftain, blames Liobhan and demands that she serve a year as a bonded servant in his household as payment, along with a handsome sum of silver coins. Liobhan readily agrees to that, even though she knows Dau’s blindness was an accident. Dau’s father insists, too, that he be returned to his family home to be cared for. This is a problem since Dau’s family, in particular his older brothers, are sick twists who love to hurt people. Going to his family’s home is the very last thing on earth Dau wants to do. But his chieftain father prevails and Dau is packed off home along with Liobhan, who is already being treated like a slave. During their time there, Dau and Liobhan have to learn to navigate the family dynamics, survive their abuse, and in the process, uncover a deep and dangerous secret involving the Crow Folk.

I have yet to read a book by Juliet Marillier that I don’t like. There are some I like more than others but I unreservedly recommend all of her books to anyone who likes the historical fantasy genre. This one was another hit for me. I liked the way the character development happened, especially with Dau. I thought it was interesting how he learned to adapt to his new circumstances and how his Swan Island training carried him through even the worst times. Seeing very strong characters like him and Liobhan become more vulnerable is always a thought provoking experience for readers. 

This novel was told from the POV of Liobhan, Dau, and Liobhan’s brother Brocc, who lives in the Otherworld, married to the queen of the fae. I generally enjoy when stories alternate perspectives like that, and this was no different. I didn’t like the parts with the Otherworld as much as in the “real” world, I think because I just don’t like the queen, Eirne, at all. I do think Brocc is an interesting figure and love that his voice can be a weapon or a balm. I like, too, Rowan and True. But unless the Otherworld time was primarily with those three, I didn’t care much for those characters or what happens to them, mainly because Eirne is such a dick. I suppose that is a sign of good writing, though, that I feel so strongly about a fictional character! 

I’m off to read the third book in this series, A Song of Flight. I hope Marillier writes a new book soon. I get so happy when I get to read her work!

Age of Saints

43925261Age of Saints: Druid’s Brooch Series: 7* by Author

I read it as a: galley

Source: Helen Hollick at Discovering Diamonds

Length: 240 pp

Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing

Year: 2019

Connall had promised his father that he would take care of Lainn, his little sister. Then his father went away and Connall, despite his best efforts, failed spectacularly in every way to uphold his promise. He and Lainn endure an abusive stepfather; a neglectful mother; starvation, terror, imprisonment, and torture in the land of Faerie; and literal insanity in both human and fey realms. Connall tries to draw on the power of a magic brooch, passed down through his family for generations, to help him and Lainn survive, but in doing so, is he saving them or only delaying the inevitable?

This is the seventh book in Christy Nicholas’s Druid’s Brooch series, and as with the others, it can be read as a standalone. I have read most of the others in the series and with each installation, I appreciate anew how well Nicholas crafts her characters. Each one has depth and vision to them, even minor characters who are only on the page a moment.

Equally appreciated is Nicholas’s deep understanding of Irish legend and lore. Her books are rich with these, and they bring the culture and people within the pages to brilliant life. This novel features the early days when the old ways of the Druids and the new ways of the Christians were still able to live together peaceably, though by the end of the book, the two religions were showing the strain. The Age of Saints refers to the 5th and 6th centuries when the Church was working especially hard to convert the Celtic countries, often using converted Celts to do so, such as St Patrick or Columba, who is referenced in this novel. It was interesting to see the interplay between the two cultures in this way.

I also loved the theme of protection that wove throughout the book. Connall cares for and protects Lainn as best he can, even when he fails utterly. He tries to keep his father’s words in mind as a way to protect himself as well, because at the end of the day, Connall is still a very young man, still in need of protection himself in a variety of ways. He learns how to protect himself, but also how to accept it from others when needed. The raven companion provides protection of a sort as well, and teaches a hard lesson. Connall protects his mother even when he doesn’t really want to. Even though most of the hardships in the book were because of a bad decision he made, Connall was still a sympathetic figure. He honestly did what he thought was best, or at least tried to. He never did anything out of maliciousness, just out of simple naivety or lack of experience, and he never whined about it, unlike some characters in other books. He Had his issues and his flaws, and he had an epic meltdown at one point, which I think was entirely understandable, but he was not an unsympathetic figure at all. He just needed someone to protect him but he had no one to do that, and so he did the best he could.

I also liked the exploration of his sexuality here, and how he was concerned about how Christians would think of him as sinful or unnatural to want to lie with another man, but the Druids had such members within their ranks and thought nothing of it. The conflict in him didn’t feel forced, like Nicholas was just trying to do something new or make a point. It was nicely done and flowed well within the narrative of the story.

One of the things I really love about this series is that it works in reverse time – the books begin in a more recent time and are gradually working back toward a time when the magic is newer and closer to the surface. I hope that, in the final installment of the series, readers will finally understand the genesis of the story, the event that caused the brooch to be given to the humans from the fey, and to see the full circle of all the novels in the series thus far. It has been a finely crafted series to date and I look forward to reading more. Highly recommended.

*Amazon affiliate link. 

Round-Up: Christy Nicholas books

One of my favorite authors, still sadly an obscure name, is Christy Nicholas. I had the good fortune to review a few of her books for Discovering Diamonds. A few of her other books are also reviewed on DDRevs by my fellow reviewers which I didn’t read, but they are worth checking out for sure. One reason I enjoy Nicholas’s books so much is because she imbues them with so much feminine power. They are accurate within the scope of their timeframe, yet the women in each one are strong, bold, as feminist as possible. She pushes the boundaries of creating feminist characters and isn’t shy to use mythical characters, such as The Morrigan, to be more feminist. I fucking love it. 

Below are a couple reviews, submitted as a guest post by Cathy Smith, who is also a reviewer at DDRevs. My own reviews of Nicholas’s books that have already been posted can be found both on DDRevs as well as on this blog. 

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Legacy of Hunger: Druid’s Brooch Series: 1

Reviewed by: Cathy Smith

Read it as a: digital galley

Source: Helen Hollick at Discovering Diamonds.

Length: 306 pp

Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing

Year: 2015

Legacy of Hunger, book one of Christy Nicholas’s Druid’s Brooch Series, takes readers on an unforgettable quest from the shores of 1846 America to the distressed Irish countryside of Valentina McDowell’s ancestors. Driven by her mother’s legends and a desire to find an old family brooch, Valentina finds early on in her quest that she will discover friendship and come to realize the betrayal of enemies. She will see beauty and face tragedy. Guided by her mystical visions, Valentina’s journey is filled with joy and sorrow as each step of the quest prepares her for what awaits at the end.

Nicholas does an excellent job developing the story by painting detailed descriptions of the characters themselves, their past, and their present. Readers also feel the intensity of the characters’ personalities through the descriptive images of the ship’s voyage across the sea and of the Irish villages and countryside. Nicholas stays true to the history of 19th century Ireland. She uses this history, as well as the legends from the ancients, to provide readers with a real-world sense of Valentina’s adventures.

As I experienced Valentina’s journey to find the answers to the mysteries that haunted her from childhood, I thought of a time when my own father told me the story of his grandmother who came to America as an indentured servant during the An Gorta Mór – The Great Hunger. He told the story of how she met my great-grandfather while working off her servitude in a well-known Colorado bar.  As I read Nicholas’ story, I realized that the legacy of hunger is a legacy that affects generations of people even into the 21st century.

Although Nicholas provides closure in the last chapter and epilogue, the happily or not so happily ever after resolutions of the individual character stories left me with deeper questions.  It is my hope to see future novels that develop some of these characters’ journeys.

Legacy of Hunger is the story of the Irish people who suffered during the Great Hunger.  It is the story of how Valentina McDowell journeys to find her strength, courage, and inner soul by overcoming the challenges to complete a quest that reveals her destiny.

Other books by Christy Nicholas:

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Legacy of Truth: Druid’s Brooch Series: 2I don’t have a link to any DDRevs review of this one.
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Legacy of Luck: Druid’s Brooch Series: 3. I don’t have a link to any DDRevs review for this one, either.
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Misfortune of Vision: Druid’s Brooch Series: 4. You can read the review on my blog, since I’m the one who wrote it for DDRevs. 
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Misfortune of Song: Druid’s Brooch Series: 5. I don’t have a link to any DDRevs review for this one. I should see about getting this to do a review.
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Misfortune of Time: Druid’s Brooch Series, 6. Again, you can read it on DDRevs, linked above, or the exact same one on my blog since I wrote the review for them. 

Nicholas also has a standalone novel that I reviewed for DDRevs as well, Call of the Morrigu. The full review is here, as I forgot to post it to my own blog before now. 

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Call Of The Morrigú

I read it as a: digital galley

Source: Helen Hollick at Discovering Diamonds.

Length: 217 pp

Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing

Year: 2017

In late 1700s Ireland, rebellion against oppressive English rule was on the rise. In one quiet corner, however, society was still relatively peaceful. Theodosia “Dosey” Latimer lives with her grandfather in their family’s country estate of Strokestown. On the property, they discover a mysterious cave filled with ancient carvings and decide to try to excavate it. In the process, they accidentally awaken The Morrigan. Yes, that Morrigan. The mythical Irish war goddess. Now it is up to Dosey and her grandfather to teach Morrigan how to behave like a proper 18th century lady – and keep her out of the rebellion coming their way.

This was, simply put, a remarkably fun read. Author Christy Nicholas weaves in mythology and history smoothly throughout the narrative. Readers are given glimpses of Celtic myth alongside bits of information about the 1798 Irish Rebellion, led by Wolfe Tone. Parts of the story were surprisingly funny as well. Morrigan learning 18th century table manners is exactly what you would hope for.

The parts of the book that I most appreciated were its many feminist elements. Feminism was a necessary component of the plot for Dosey to be able to grow as a character and a woman. She also was a product of her time and none of her actions were unbelievable or out of place in the story. However, it’s hard for me not to cheer and fall in love with characters who make comments like “I do not understand the shame your society has for the body. It is a glorious thing, full of life and pleasure” or “You are power. You are woman. All woman are power.” Here, Morrigan was reflecting what was understood to be the typical pre-Christian culture of ancient Ireland (or at least the author’s interpretation of it), but it remains highly relevant in today’s society where women’s rights are still challenged and threatened by the patriarchy. Having a mythical character speak the words makes them no less relevant, and allows a certain safe distance from which we can examine our modern morals and values. I loved it.

My only criticism is that I felt some of the secondary characters could have been developed a little more. I wanted to get to know Nan better, and Cillian and Marcus. They were fine, but they felt like they were placeholders or extras just playing a necessary part in a formula. However, they were not totally flat or one-dimensional, either, and they served their respective purposes well enough.

Overall, I loved this book and look forward to reading more by this author. Strongly recommended for anyone who is interested in Irish mythology, history, or the influence of women on either subject.

Misfortune of Time (Druid’s Brooch #6)

40176383Misfortune of Time by Christy Nicholas

I read it as an: egalley

Source: Helen Hollick at  Discovering Diamonds. 

Length: my file only gave Kindle locations, not page numbers. Super annoying.

Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing

Year: 2018

*Minor spoilers ahead. You have been warned.*

In this sixth installment of Christy Nicholas’s Druid’s Brooch series, Etain, a 12th century Irish woman, has the ability not to age thanks to the magic she draws from her Druid’s brooch. The brooch is an heirloom inherited from her mother, passed down the family line, first given to her family by a Druid in thanks for saving his life. Etain is able to change her appearance at will, so she can age herself appropriately over the years, but her natural appearance is of a woman around 30 years old. In truth, she is around 150. She has had many husbands, many children, and has had to leave them all behind in her long life to avoid being discovered and killed as a witch or Fae. Her current husband, Airtre, is a mentally and physically abusive putrescence of a man, a Christian priest whose primary goal is to move up in the Church to a bishopric. Etain stays only to protect her young grandson, Maelan, from Airtre. When events explode, Etain is forced to flee, getting help from some unexpected allies, including other priests and monks, as well as a few kindly Fae.

I have read several books by Christy Nicholas, including some in the Druid’s Brooch series, and I must say I think this is my favorite one so far. The characters were all multidimensional and interesting, for the most part, and I enjoyed seeing a variety of people mingling together in the villages Etain traveled to, even if life wasn’t really like that in 12th century Ireland. I think she captured the fear and ambivalence of an abused woman well, though I hope I never truly understand that. Etain had a horrific life and it speaks to the strength of her spirit that she kept going and trying to survive rather than just giving up and letting some mad horde kill her as a witch, for the brooch can’t protect her from death.

I loved the theme of tolerance woven throughout, as well as the Gaelic hospitality. There were many instances of travelers or even old friends being offered food, drink, and washing water the moment they set foot indoors. I loved that because that’s how I was raised and it felt like home to see it reflected on the page. As well, the tolerance was a thread throughout. Etain has lived long enough to know that belief isn’t what is important, it is people who are important. She tells Maelan that “a little kindness can have unexpected rewards,” and often she herself has to remember her own lesson and take the kindness of others. Later, Maelan’s wife, Liadan, tells her, “Before I met [Aes], I didn’t realize pagans were just normal people like you and me.” Learning that people have more similarities than differences is a vital life lesson that many people today still need to learn.

The one thing I wish was different was that some of the narrative felt rushed. When Etain left Faerieland and settled in the ringfort, working in the kitchens, for example, little time was spent there, little real detail. The same happened before she entered Faerieland, when she was in the village and traded all her herbs for a cow. I wanted more detail and time spent in those places. Doing so, I feel, would give more of a sense of loss, of fatigue, because Etain was happy in both of those places and then was forced to go again. But these are minor quibbles in my overall enjoyment of this very engaging historical fantasy.

Also, it totally made me think of Dar Williams’ song The Christians and the Pagans.