I’ve heard so much about David Gemmell over the years. Either through book recommendations, or through reading (and enjoying) authors who had been nominated for the award set up in his name. However, rather embarrassingly, I’d never made my way to reading any of his books.
When a friend of mine discussed The Rigante series – and it being inspired by Irish mythology, it piqued my interest and so I started my foray into the works of David Gemmell with the wonderful Sword in the Storm.
It is a really good book. David Gemmell is often called ‘The Master of Heroic Fantasy’ and after reading this, I can see why.
Connavar makes an interesting protagonist. The prologue shows him as a mighty and powerful king who is about to be betrayed. Then we immediately cut back to a time before he is born, where a young man, madly in love with his wife and expecting a young son, is afraid of dying. Thus, we see Connavar being born and growing up. We see how he becomes this mighty king and why there are those who might wish to betray him.
The prose, the story, and the adventures of a boy turning into a man are highly entertaining, but what also makes this story so special for me, was the use of Irish myths and legends, the folkloric style in which the story was told, and the weaving in of secondary characters POV’s to embellish the story.
Connavar is the main character, there is no doubt about that, but many of his friends have little sections so the reader can know them better. Meria, Ruathain, Tae, Vorna and Riamfada are all fantastic characters who help Conn during his travels and trials.
There is also tragedy. Ruathain’s guilt over the death of his friend who stood alongside him in battle was very tangible. These themes reminded me greatly of some of the most famous Irish legends. The death of Connla, the son of Cú Chulainn, was the one that came to me most strongly.
And then there is The Morrigu and the Seidh.
The link here is at its strongest as The Morrigan is a character from Irish mythology and a prophetess of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Just like Morrigu in the book, she is able to foretell death and see the future, and she can be both helpful and malevolent. In a famous Irish story, known as The Tain, she appears to the hero Cú Chulainn several times.
At their first meeting, he rejects her love and so she foretells of his death. However in the epic battle between the Tuatha Dé Danann and Fomorians at The Second Battle of Moytura, she helps the Tuatha Dé Danann defeat the evil Fomorians who had enslaved the Irish.
In Irish mythology, Morrigan is also a shape-shifter and can take the form of a crow or old woman.
In Irish myth, the Tuatha Dé Danann were banished to an otherworld, and are the inspiration for the fairy people in Irish folklore. They are known for playing tricks and so people would be afraid of them. The scene in Talis Woods, reminded me of this. Connavar is told the forest is cursed and those who enter come back out as old men. He therefore uses the woods to hide from his enemies, hoping the locals will be too scared to follow.
This part in the novel also feels linked to the legends of Tír na nÓg, the land of eternal youth and beauty. When Oisín (son of Fionn McCool) visited there, after a while he wanted to return home, but when he landed on Irish soil he turned into an old man because time had passed differently in Tír na nÓg.
The Rigante also has a similar cultural setting to pre-Christian Ireland. The tribal feel surrounding the community feels authentic and the inclusion of kings, druids, healers, warriors makes it more so. By the end of the novel, Connavar is building up a war band of sorts, something similar to Finn McCool and the fianna.
I am hoping to see plenty more adventures in the sequel. However, as with Irish mythology, I expect more tragedy. Connavar has done some awful things in an attempt to seek revenge. There is a darkness within him and I don’t expect this to go unchallenged. Hopefully his friends and the magical characters will help him in his times of need.
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Shauna Lawless is an author and her upcoming series is a historical fantasy set in 10th century, Ireland. The first book, The Children of Gods and Fighting Men, is now available to pre-order.
See my ‘books’ tab for links! https://shaunalawless.com/books/