1994; 528 pages. New Author? : No. Genre : Historical Fiction. Overall Rating : 10*/10.
Finn Mac Cool is a mythical warrior in pre-Christian Ireland. You can read the Wikipedia article about him here. Legendary he may be, but stories such as his often arise from historical events and real people.
But how do they “grow” into larger-than-life characters? In Finn Mac Cool, Morgan Llywelyn weaves a fascinating hypothesis about how just such a thing might have come about.
What’s To Like...
As always, Morgan Llywelyn’s writing is breathtaking and the characters are all richly three-dimensional, “gray”, and continue to develop as the story progresses. There are unexpected plot twists, despite the author having to stay within the confines of the established legends. There is Romance, Action, Drama, History, and perhaps even a bit of Magic courtesy of the Tuatha de Danann. So no matter what genre you’re in the mood for, you’ll likely to find it here.
The book explores numerous themes, some of which are :
How history can evolve into legends.
Heroes grow old, and so do kings.
Compensation (think ‘karma’) can be brutal.
A caste system can be brutal as well.
Oaths and duty are sacred obligations.
The ending is both logical and surprising, and I found myself constantly changing my guess as to how Finn’s relationships with Goll, Cormac, and Oisin would be resolved. Celtic Ireland is beautifully portrayed, and my only quibble is with the mention of chess. Sorry, Ms. Llywelyn; chess came out of ancient Persia, and would not have spread this far by Finn’s time.
Kewlest New Word. . .
Coibche (n.) : the bride-price a man had to pay to a woman for the right to marry her.
The thudding sound was not so muffled now. Accompanied by a curious hiss and slap, it echoed along the waterway.
“Did you ever hear anything like that before?” Finn asked Goll.
“Never. Be ready; it could be danger.”
Finn grinned. “Is that a promise?” (pg. 64)
“His are splendid tales for telling around a campfire, but I cannot vouch for their accuracy, and our children’s children might not be well served if the more outrageous stories were made part of our history.”
The chief historian, a thin-legged, round-belied man with a prodigious memory, found this an astonishing conversation. “Are you telling me Finn Mac Cool would lie about the achievements of himself and the Fianna?”
“He would not lie, I think. But he . . . adds colour. A great deal of colour.” (pg. 342)
“Finn doesn’t know how to talk to a woman. His mother was a deer.” (pg. 102)
As a piece of historical fiction, Finn Mac Cool is superb There are a couple ‘adult situations, but that’s in keeping with the times. Finn and his band of warriors are mighty and brave, but the women here are strong as well.
This is my third Morgan Llywelyn novel. The other two are reviewed here and here. Each one has been a literary delight, and Red Branch is sitting on my TBR shelf.
10 Stars. Add 1 star if . . . well, 10 Stars is as high as we go here. Highly Recommended.