EIRELAN

A futuristic tale in which the people of Ireland wage war as if it were the Middle Ages.

Almost 2,000 years from now, humankind has long since abandoned the machines that nearly destroyed the Earth and has reverted to stateless, clan-based forms of government. In the Province of the Twenty Clans in southeastern Ireland, citizens generally lead simple lives filled with music, poetry, good food and strong ale. But they are under constant threat from raiders to the north, where unusually cold weather has shut down agricultural production and caused a famine. This enjoyable debut novel from O’Shiel—filled with battles involving swords, bows, catapults and wooden ships—could almost be mistaken for historical fiction set in the Middle Ages or earlier, if not for the enlightened attitudes about gender roles. O’Shiel introduces a host of well-developed major and minor characters, including Conor Laigain, a reluctant soldier who takes over command of the Province’s field army. Meanwhile, his fiancée Mairin Fotharta, a captain in the nearly all-female navy, sails four warships down to Santander, Spain, to fight alongside Cornish, Welsh and Breton allies. In between battles with bad guys who are about as nameless and faceless as orcs in a Tolkien novel, libidos rage, love triangles form and friendships are tested. A map would have been helpful for following the action, and at times certain characters make decisions with unrealistic impulsiveness. The book would also benefit from additional proofreading for spelling and grammar mistakes. Yet despite these flaws, O’Shiel writes with charm and conviction that makes the work stand out from other similarly grandiose works of fantasy. While the central conceit of the novel (a future where Irish clans speak the Celtic language, abandon Christianity and successfully fight with swords instead of modern weapons) is far-fetched, O’Shiel delivers a rich, engaging epic.

 

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2011

ISBN: 978-1463569327

Page Count: 793

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2012

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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