Darby Kaye continues her exploration of the fighting Irish in this crisp and feisty urban fantasy. Adult fans of Finn Finnegan and Gideon’s Spear will relish the added frisson of a very grown up relationship between an heir to the Celtic throne and the young healer, Shay, whose skills are constantly put to the test.
Set in the unearthly landscape of Colorado’s Garden of the Gods, dotted with fantastical hoodoo stones, it’s easy to believe that another race could wage war under the noses of the sparse population. One gets the feeling that Ms Kaye is very much on home territory here. The Celtic angle is handled well, helped by the fact that the male protagonist is a displaced Irishman with the charm and brogue that comes from a direct link with the old country, not fueled by second and third generation mawkishness.
But it is the conflict between Bannerman Boru’s paternal directive to keep his young son safe from harm and his own desires and stubborn, but understandable, convictions that drives the novel. Eight year old Cor, with all his childish foibles, demands and frailties, lies at the heart of the story. In the end, it is his well-being that provides the emotional tune the cast must all dance to.
There is little interaction between the Tuath Dé Danann (Tribe of the Gods) and mortal men here. The enemy in the shape of the Fir Bolg, however, are all too recognisable as having very despicable human traits. They would pass muster as feral youth anywhere. The mythology is well established, and the Stag Lord as nemesis is steeped in legend.
The style is sharp and concise, making it a smooth and easy read. I raced through this and there were genuinely touching moments. Moments which owe a lot to the author’s skill. The themes explored—honour, belonging, gender roles and paternal love—are a thousand miles away from the angst ridden paranormal romances which seem to weigh down so many urban fantasy shelves. For that alone, I applaud Darby Kaye. I would have liked to know a little more about the Stag Lord’s psychopathic motivation, and the gung-ho, tribal blood-lust of the Tuath Dé Danann sometimes grated. But then they aren’t men, they are immortal warriors. And I have a sneaking feeling that Cernunnos (the Stag Lord) might be back to tell us all why he wants to do the things he does.
Making the transition from middle grade to adult using the same mythology can be difficult, and a clever trick if you can pull it off. Clever trick, Ms Kaye.