Fionn: Defence of Ráth Bládhma (Fionn mac Cumhaill #1) by Brian O’Sullivan
Fionn was my fifth SPFBO book and it was a thoroughly enjoyable read. This book is a beginning really. A story that is based deep in the heart of ancient celtic mythology, a story that brings to us the beginnings of a legend. Fionn was a hero and warrior and this book is a retelling of the start of his story.
I must say that that this got off to a terrific start with a young woman, heavily pregnant, making her way alone through harsh territory. She’s followed by a lone wolf. A wolf driven to extremes by desperate hunger. This opening was just so gripping, I have to say that as starts to books go I don’t remember being as captivated as this for a long while.
From here we revert to a young woman working out in the field, a woman touched by a strange vision that strikes fear into her heart. The young woman is Bodhmhall, druid and leader of the small community at Ráth Bládhma. It seems that she’s about to meet up with the young woman we met at the start of the story, a woman called Muirne who seeks sanctuary after most of her own tribe were attacked and killed.
We then jump to a scene out in the wild where Liath Luachra, warrior and partner to Bodhmhall is out hunting. She comes across the tracks of a large hunting party and follows their trail. Upon finding them she beholds a strange man who frightens her so badly that she almost loses her senses.
Not to give too much away it seems that Muirne was running away from something and in seeking sanctuary has brought trouble a plenty to Ráth Bládhma’s door. This is only a small community and though fairly well established is in no way capable of taking on large raiding parties.
The story is told with alternative POVs with Bodhmhall and Liath. Without doubt Liath’s scenes were the more gripping as she’s generally out and about, stealing through the woods and swamps following unseen in the footsteps of others. Liath has a dark past that she has tried to forget, not always successfully. Bodhmhall’s chapters have a much more restrained feel but I did really enjoy these chapters as they helped to set the scene and show us the hardships of life – and boy was life hard then! Cold and hunger were the two constants that could be relied upon. But, in spite of the hardships the small community under Bodhmhall’s care are content, little do they realise how content until their world is ripped apart and turned upside down.
In terms of plot. Well, this certainly isn’t convoluted. A young woman seeks sanctuary for herself and her baby and a couple of other war tribes seem to seek her. We never really know exactly why and in that respect I felt like Muirne was being a bit careful with the truth.
There are plenty of fight sequences, a siege and an attack on Ráth Bládhma that are absolutely gripping to read about – the fight that involves Liath and a large number of warriors was breathtaking – my heart was literally in my throat.
The writing is smooth and persuasive. I could easily picture the place and the people. Their hardships, their loves are all easily spelled out here and the strength of feeling they have for their community and the lengths they go to to protect it and each other is really well portrayed and very touching.
I have to say that this is a totally gripping read and the start to a series that I will undoubtedly continue. Very entertaining, well written and populated with very likeable characters. This author can certainly conjure up a picture in your mind’s eye, his writing flows easily, he doesn’t feel the need to dump large amounts of information, he allows the story to develop naturally and for you the reader to reach your own inclusions without hand holding.
This is a book with a good deal of gritty realism, at this point fairly low in fantasy although there is obviously the druid aspect and also the strange and totally creepy magical man who was following in Muirne’s footsteps. I will mention there is also quite a bit of bloodshed and gore but nothing that detracts from the read or makes it feel gratuitous, just more a statement about the brutality of the time.
I think probably the only niggle I had was with the various words that were sprinkled throughout the story that I assume were Gaelic and also the names – but, whilst I think this may present a bit of a challenge in terms of pronunciation I really do appreciate the author’s use of the original names and phrases. I think, yes, it may take a little time to come to terms with pronunciation, but it’s worth it for the authenticity that it brings to the story.
A very good start to a promising series and one that I have no hesitation in recommending.