Eirelan is a land under constant attack. Wartime has forced thoughts of the family behind battle plans and wounds with no ending in sight. The characters battle for their survival with no real sense of the future being any brighter. This novel documents how the scales begin to tip, and life is even more on a dagger’s edge.
The perspective changes in the first couple of chapters gave me unhappy feelings – I like to follow one character, or perhaps two, all the way through the novel otherwise I get confused about their names (I do this in real life too). O’Shiel managed it very well, and despite swapping between the characters, I felt like I was getting to know them well and I could keep track of which was which with ease.
I struggled to get a full picture of the novel’s contents. It wasn’t clear to me why Eirelan was being invaded in the first place. The first 200 or so pages built for me an image of a series of ever lasting battles, and an impending final push, but I didn’t see why that was happening. I couldn’t understand why they were fighting, or it was that I didn’t care? I didn’t get a bigger picture, a sense of climax, just a series of small battles which all were destroying the characters’ souls. The dreams that each of the characters had were neatly slipped into the text though. This all improved in the second half of the novel, and I couldn’t put it down.
The dialogue often seemed stilted and artificial, as did some of the scenery descriptions. There were also several instances where I noted far too much listing! At the same time though, the information about how a ship works, and the log entries and so forth were valuable and I enjoyed reading them.
I haven’t really decided how I feel about chapters starting with little quotes/notes/diary entries since I read the ‘Quantum Physics’ book which completely put my off quotes. The diary entries and things work well here though, because often it provides a concrete link between the two flanking chapters. That grounding helped with the perspective changes.
Conor is obsessed with his dream of the cottage and children. I can understand it, but I’m not sure why he feels compelled to bring it up with everyone he meets. Things in Marien’s past are hinted at slowly and subtly, and I really felt like I was guessing correctly – a bit of mystery was good all the way through.
I liked the undertones of Mairin and Conor’s relationship, and the swift decisions that must be made in wartime. It all seemed a little incestuous really because everyone seemed to have known each other for an age before they became partners. That wasn’t a negative for me at all because it made it easier for me to keep track of them.
A sign that I loved this book was that by the time I was nearing the last 200 pages or so I was dreading getting to the end because I loved the characters so much. Why did some of them have to die? Ah yes, the battle scenes were excellent, even though the perspective changed a fair bit there too, and I really wanted to skip ahead to find out what was going to happen next for that particular character.
There are deeper themes in this book too, the endless cycle of war and peace that even our current world seems unable to let go of. It seems to be human nature – but what this novel tries to point out is that we are all humans, and we all are essentially the same when it comes to having families and loving eachother.
I usually love Celtic/Gaelic literature, and I wasn’t disappointed by this novel despite a couple of nit-picky things I have mentioned (as always, I find it easier to comment on the bad rather than the good). It was one of the few Goodreads: First Reads books that I had marked as to-read before I even knew I had won it. I was super excited to receive it in the mail and set about reading it right there and then. It has caused me to neglect other things I should be doing – a sign that it’s a good one!
I’ve marked this book as both fantasy and historical fiction. I don’t think it’s strictly either – although it is not obvious til the second half of the book, it is set in the future (if I missed it in the first half, it was because I was too engrossed in the characters). Fantasy to me involves magic and impossible things – something that this novel lacks. But then again, it’s not really historical fiction (as far as my limited knowledge tells me), because of the women being allowed to fight (it seems like all of the women are on ships or are Bows) and having political roles. Eirelan sounds almost exactly like Ireland! And at one point, there is a map shown to Marien which has England and other ‘real’ countries on it.
I’d likely recommend this book for adults and teens who like Celtic/Gaelic fiction and enjoy a good battle scene. For some reason it feels to me like a teenage book, but the descriptions of violence make me suggest it is for older teens. I guess there is not as much depth as I expect for a purely adult book, although it is certainly thick enough to be one at almost 800 pages.
4.5 stars from me (from Goodreads) and I can’t wait to read the second novel in this series. Earlier reviews have complained of typos in the kindle copy, the majority of those have been ironed out in my beautiful hard copy with creamy pages.
I received this book to review through the Goodreads: First Reads program, but I was not compensated in any other way to write a positive review. All opinions are my own and unbiased despite receiving a free book.
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The author, Liam O’Shiel, talking about Eirelan
Six months of writing a doctoral dissertation left me desperate to write something for fun. I’d written science fiction on and off for many years and so got started on a science fiction novel set in the future. Then something unusual happened: the story evolved to one set in the chronological future . . . but in the technological past. Not a “nuclear holocaust” tale, but rather a story much further into the future, at a time when nuclear weapons and nearly all the high technology of our own time has faded away. Global warming has given way to the Earth’s natural cooling cycle: an Ice Age approaches in Europe. In the British Isles and Brittany, Gaelic-speaking cultures have survived and even thrived for nearly 1,000 years and now are faced with destruction. Cold brings want, want breeds desperation, desperation spawns violence. The people at the center of “Eirelan” are struggling to survive, yes, but why? Not just to stay alive themselves. They seek to preserve for their children and grandchildren a world of music, poetry, art, craft, and spiritual values, in a word, their heritage passed down through the centuries. Conor and Mairin and Feth and Sean and all the rest, while very different as individuals, yearn for a time of peace and security for those who will come after them. “Eirelan” is their story and to be truthful, it feels as if they told their story to me and I wrote it down. I live part-time in their world, more threatening in some ways than ours, yet more rewarding in some ways too. If you enter their world, I hope you will find it welcoming and exciting. I am continuing to write this saga, whose ending I do not yet know.