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Lion of Ireland


Morgan Llywelyn

  Tor Books  
Release Date:


  Historical Fiction, Ireland 1014  
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Brian is the youngest of a large, rowdy family living a peaceful life in rural Ireland. His father, Cennedi, is chieftain of the Dal Cais tribe, a prince of Thomond, and a strong, respected leader of his people. One rainy evening while the twelve children are eating the evening meal with their parents, the shanahy, a historian and storyteller, appears. They welcome him heartily and he graces them with a story, leaving it as a cliff hanger to finish another day. Well fed and entertained, the family goes to sleep, except for Mahon, the oldest, who takes his turn with two other men watching the sheep in the high meadows by the caves. Brian idolizes Mahon and sneaks out to be part of doing a manís job and proving himself to Mahon. The rain worsens, and they all take shelter in one of the caves.

Toward dawn, they hear unusual noises, and leaving their shelter, find the sounds are coming from the village. Running now, they discover they are too late. The Northmen have attacked; vicious brutes who raid, pillage, rape and murder for the honor of proving themselves men. The Dal Cais fight off the Northmen, but with very high loss of life. Brian sees half his family and the shanahy murdered. He witnesses the rape of his mother, which she fights so hard the Northman ends up killing her in the process. The village packs up and takes refuge in the monkís monastery of Killaloe.

So, thatís the first chapter.

This book is intense. It follows Brian through his learning at the monastery with his slightly mad brother Marcan, through his military training with his older brother Mahon, and to his eventual rise being named Ard Ri, king of all kings at Tara. He travels widely, fights masterfully, and marries three times, producing a large family.

This book gives a wonderful, if violent, picture of Ireland in the 1000s. Countryside, towns, monasteries, cities, are described well and build a not-overly-romanticized view of the culture. Interestingly, when the focus shifts to the Northmen, the same care is taken to describe the Viking way of life. When describing the Vikings, the Irish are weaklings and raiding an honor, nay, an obligation. When following the Irish, the Northmen are horrors with no souls.

This book offers all the political intrigue, family crisis, coming of age, war and war tactics, deep friendships and unforeseen betrayals you could wish, mixed with a bit of Irish lore and Norse mythology. Itís a well written and well researched picture of the Irish King who unified all of the tribes for the first time and opened the way for a united Ireland, breaking the strength of the Northmen who raided unmercifully for decades. A good read for war buffs, history fiends, and romance (though the romance doesnít always have a happy ending, since it didnít in real life.)

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