In this first book of the "Songs of Eirren" series, the world of Irish legends become accessible to American youth. This is no guarantee that American readers at any age will be ready to guess how to pronounce words given in their Gaelic spelling, which I find so baffling that English spelling seems intuitive beside it. Fortunately, there are only a few of these in this book. And so it is left to the sensuously depicted landscape, the quality of the characters, and the shape of the adventure to give this story that unmistakable Irish lilt.
Main character Collun does not think of himself as a hero. Far sooner than battle monsters with a sword, he would be up to his elbows in the soil of his garden in the far south of Eirren—the country we know as Ireland. But after his sister disappears during a visit to their city aunt, and his mother begins to waste away for grief, and the village idiot tells him it is time for him to go, Collun braces himself for adventure. His unloving, blacksmith father does him one last favor—forging his garden fork into a dagger—and pushes him out the door with nothing but a wallet full of herbs, a bit of food, and a sense of his own cowardice.
Soon enough, Collun's courage is tested when some grey-skinned, yellow-eyed creatures called morgs try to scrobble him. Though his performance is nothing to be proud of, Collun survives—partly thanks to the group of traveling companions he has begun to accumulate. There is, first of all, the aspiring bard Talisen, who can harp with the best of them, but yearns to learn how to write his own songs. Then there is Brie, a fiery archer who turns out to be a girl in disguise. Add a prince of the Ellyl (something like the "fair folk"), whose power comes in handy when he sees fit to use it, and Collun's fellowship is almost complete.
But now an evil queen from the north plans to invade Eirren, a queen who holds Collun's beloved sister hostage. And while the boy learns grim secrets about his true father—a hero fallen in more than one sense—and considers the purpose of the lucky stone his mother passed down him, Collun realizes that the most deadly monster is for him to face alone.
Collun is an easy hero to love, but the challenges he encounters in this story are anything but easy or painless. This is the tale of an ancient culture distilled down to one young man's personal quest for family, home, peace, and belonging. After he knows himself to be weak and afraid, he finds that he has no choice but to act strong and brave. And though the touch of evil leaves its mark on him, he remains good. With such an appealing character at its center, surrounded by such unfulfilled prospects of love and happiness, involved in such fleet-footed and magical adventures told in such a clear and direct way, this book can hardly miss the aim of making you eager to read its sequel, Fire Arrow.
Saint Louis USA
Recommended Age: 12+
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