A young princess of Northern Ireland, raised by leprechauns and fairies, strives to reclaim her stolen kingdom in this debut novel, steeped in Irish history and mythology.
After the death of King Desmond of Ulster in the late 13th century, the queen’s bastard son, Randall, is chosen to succeed him rather than Desmond’s legitimate heir, Brandon, who fumes over this outcome. He plots against his half-brother and ultimately has Randall and his wife assassinated in front of their 4-year-old daughter, Fruenil. Although rumors spread that the young girl was murdered as well, in actuality, she is rescued by a leprechaun, Puck, who spirits her away to Fairyland, where he raises her with Morganna, high priestess of the fairies. In Fairyland, “Fruenil grew into a lovely young girl that also possessed a strength of body and sharpness of mind that continually surprised Morganna and Puck, as well as the fairies that she interacted with.” Years later, however, she is banished to the kingdom of the dwarves by Fairy King Gregor after she refuses the sexual advances of a male fairy called Rory. Morganna and Puck decide that she should be trained in the art of war while she’s with the dwarves in order to eventually take back her own kingdom from her Uncle Brandon, known as the Usurper. Containing echoes of the Romanov princess, Anastasia, blended with mythological and historical references encompassing Irish tradition, Shakespeare, and more, Leslie’s fantasy story is rich and largely well told, with solid if unremarkable prose and an admirable sense of building momentum. Although it doesn’t offer the most complex characters, Fruenil remains a strong and believable heroine. At the same time, the threat of rape unfortunately recurs repeatedly, which somewhat undermines the narrative’s feminism. In scenes set in the human world, the characters’ dialogue often seems to be trying too hard to be abrasively gritty, with an endless string of excrement references. But, thankfully, most of the novel is set in more fantastical realms that feature a gentler tone. The book also ends abruptly, and while this is because a second volume in the series is forthcoming, this first installment seems to cut off without warning or a sense of culmination.
While it needs more editing and polish, this engaging fantasy tale delivers an appealing heroine.