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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

Celtic Myth Reinvented For The Twentieth Century

Firebrand - Gillian Philip

At more than ninety-thousand words, densely written, and bristling with Gaelic names, Firebrand could represent a challenge for some readers. However, it’s a challenge worth rising to, for Gillian Philip has drawn upon the neglected mythology of these islands to forge a powerful work of fantasy. With a driving plot and central characters that burn with a fierce intensity she makes the magical realm of Celtic myth utterly convincing.

This is the story of two worlds: our own and the parallel world of the Sithe (pronounced she), a fierce, magical warrior-race. The two are separated by a protecting veil of magic; but when the Sithe chieftain Conal and his half-brother Seth fall foul of their queen they are forced to cross the veil and suffer exile in sixteenth-century Scotland, a country in the grip of a witch-burning frenzy.

I do have some reservations. There are a lot of minor characters and it is easy to lose track of who is who, especially in the last third of the book. I’d like to see a list of names and a pronunciation guide because Gaelic spelling is difficult if you’re not used to it. And when Gillian Philip allows anachronisms, like ‘alpha-male’, to creep into the speech of these ancient Celtic warriors the atmosphere is slightly punctured for me. Nevertheless, this is a terrific feat of the imagination: ambitious, full-blooded, and thoroughly entertaining.

(Review first published at www.writeaway.org.uk)