Authors: O.R. Melling
Paranormal > Fairies
Fantasy > Mythology > Magic
Cultural > Canada
Young Adult > Young Adult Fantasy
European Literature > Irish Literature
Published/Publisher: September 29th 1988/Puffin Canada (first published 1987)
Format Read In: Paperback
Summary from Goodreads:
Following anonymous clues and increasingly strong dream-visions, modern-day Kay Warrick travels to Ireland and enters the Bronze-Age. She and a De Danaan foundling, Aherne, are charged with finding the lost treasures of the De Danaans. Ultimately, their quest will redeem the ancestors and reconcile warring invaders and settlersmoral concerns that mirror modern ones.
My Review [SPOILERS AHEAD]:
“Only when the four treasures are united will their true power shine forth. Then will my hall and memory be rekindled and then each of you will find what you seek” – Fintan Tuan; The Singing Stone, O. R. Melling
I picked this book up at my work’s “free box” so it was a little worse-for-wear but I get a really nostalgic feeling when I see tattered books; flashbacks to my childhood grabbing book after shabby book from the school library makes me fond of the threadbare look! The name ‘K. Matthews’ was written in blue pen on the first page at the top which gave the book an extra bit of history that made me feel just so giddy.
The cover is simple, with a nice illustration set in the middle of our heroes, and it gave me the sense that this was a book more tilted towards children than young adults but that certainly doesn’t deter me from reading any book. Sometimes you need a break from the ‘adult’ books.
Kay Warrick is an orphan, friendless but intelligent, with the power to see images when she looks at people and with dreams that feel more like visions. One day, she receives a parcel of books detailing stories of mythical quests, Celtic legends and the history of Ireland. Convinced these stories will answer her questions about her parents and where she came from, and why she has these abilities, she embarks on a journey to Ireland, where she stumbles into the past, to an Ireland controlled by the Tuatha De Danaan, a race of mythical people ruled by a monarchy and the magical Druids. But this land is in turmoil as war with foreign races looms. Kay, and the young changeling red-headed child named Aherne, are sent on a quest by the elderly and mysterious Fintan Tuan to retrieve the four lost mystical items of the Danaan: the Sword, the Cauldron, the Spear and the Singing Stone. When these items are reunited, they will reignite the power of the Danaan.
I’m such a sucker for these kinds of old-school quest stories! I love the sense of adventure, the camaraderie that builds between characters in the group and between the characters and their allies, and the final conclusion when they reach their goal. It’s nice, simple and linear, when you look at just the bare skeleton of the plot. But this book gets a tad more complicated when you realize that not all is as it seems. The Danaan are not the innocent victims of a savage attack on their land, but ruthless dictators who’ve oppressed the aboriginal people of this land and other lands through their magic and superiority complex. These oppressed people have just now turned around with the intention to reclaim their lands through war while the Danaan are torn between themselves. I was excited to see the idea of the heroes thinking they were fighting for the right people and realizing they may be fighting for the wrong people after all, and feeling conflicted because of this.
This is the first book I’ve read in awhile that wasn’t in first-person, and not only that but the narrative was omnipresent so we got to see the thoughts and feelings of every character and not just Kay, so it was a bit jarring for me but I quickly got used to the style (to be honest, I kind of prefer it over first person but that’s not what I’m picky about).
While the “plot twists” could be easily spotted from a mile away, I could let this book get away with it because a) the writing and the story are very much geared towards children, and b) the book is only around 200 pages; I think I’d be less forgiving if the plot twists were easily spotted from a mile away but the author took 500 pages to get to them. Nevertheless, the twists add more depth to the characters and the story in an interesting way, which I was thankful for. Anyone else tired of “twists” placed for shock value and adding no real value to anything in the story?
The plot was well-rounded, made sense, was smooth and concluded well!
The characters reflected the plot in that they were pretty 1D with just a touch of depth here and there. But, again, this was a short book clearly made for children, and while I don’t for a second believe children can’t read and/or comprehend books more complicated than this one, with the book being the genre that it is and with the time restraint, I believe the lack of exploration into the characters made sense. That’s not to say there weren’t dimensions to explore.
Kay Warrick is our protagonist who starts off the book feeling aloof and standoffish though we quickly learn it’s because she’s an orphan who’s bounced from foster home to foster home, never really staying in one place for long, and feeling detached from any human connection. On top of that, she’s lived her life having bizarre but vivid dreams about another place and being able to sense a person’s aura through metaphorical images that play in her head when she concentrates on them. Despite having no formal high school education, she is a quick learner and well educated, and more so after she receives the parcel of books that sets her on her path. I thought Kay was a decent protagonist, smart and resourceful with a focused drive towards her goals. You can tell that being a solitary person caused her to have less patience with people’s excuses and attitudes, and she’s definitely not shy about voicing her opinion on such matters, but over the course of the book, she does learn to soften up and, better yet, be able to deal with taking care of another person besides herself. I was glad she was able to open up over time and be able to form and keep connections with her friends, something she’s desperately wanted but always feared she’d never have due to her unique abilities. We also get to learn that she is quite the powerful mage, able to use her mind to make connections with people, and project her thoughts into their heads and vice versa. There was a nice contrast between the beginning of the novel, with Kay contemplating her quest alone and traveling to Ireland alone, and the end, where she’s more friendly and candid and her ability to travel through time lending her the tools to lighten her life.
Aherne is the changeling child who called out to Kay in Kay’s dreams for help to save Aherne’s people. However, when we first meet Aherne, she has no memory of who she was before stumbling in the forest, lost and alone. She joins the quest for the four treasures of her people so she can discover who she is and also to save the Danaan race. I’d argue she’s the one that develops the most, which isn’t a surprise when you follow her story. She starts off rather whiny and childish but certainly just as fierce and determined as Kay. Over time, her courage grows and her desire to help her people solidifies as they get closer to the end of the quest. She also begins to open her mind and realize the damage the Danaans have done to people, and to accept that they deserve the fate of war that they’ve brought down upon themselves. It was interesting to watch her go back and forth with her feelings, knowing that her people have done wrong but unwilling to accept their doomed fate and side with the “enemy”. The strong connection and support that is built between her and Kay helps her grow incredibly and places her in her rightful place to save her people and bring peace to those the Danaan have oppressed. I love female-female friendships, especially when it’s so essential to both characters’ developments, so of course I liked and focused on Aherne and Kay’s relationship. Why they have such an instantly deep connection is explained at the end, but I’d rather keep thinking that they just managed to naturally click.
The rest of the supporting characters are predictably less developed but were fun and essential to the plot.
Fintan Tuan is the old mage who lives far from civilization who really helped orchestrates the whole quest. He’s only around for the beginning and the end, but his aid was incredibly important. I get the feeling that his explanation at the end of the book for why he did what he did was not all-together steeped in wisdom but more of a last-ditch effort that he didn’t fully think through, which I found charming and a nice break from the typical mysterious-but-secretly-very-powerful-and-always-put-together-wizard trope.
Eolas is one of the Cheif Druids and the foster-father to the Rising Queen, who is the new queen of the Danaan. Unlike his villainous fellow Druids, Fokmar and Fiss, he is a kind mage who dearly loves his ward and is heartbroken when he is told that she will betray the Danaans to their enemies. His fatherly feelings were sweet, a contrast to the air of danger and fear that surrounds the people in the book when they mention the Druids.
Radarc is one of three Sentinels of Danu the goddess, an elegant humanoid giant who’s features–antler attached to his brows, a stag for a companion–feels so very Hayao Miyazaki, which I love! The Sentinels are summoned and commanded by the Danaan queen and the Druids. Radarc and the two other Sentinels were summoned to kill the next Queen as per the orders of Fokmar and Fiss but they don’t have much of a role to play until the end when the missing Rising Queen is discovered. Even then, they didn’t feel dangerous. It was nice that we got to know Radarc a bit; it helped humanize the Sentinels.
Liag Finehair is the tough and stern queen of the Formorians, a group of people persecuted by the Danaan. While I felt bad for the plight of her people, I didn’t like her as a person at all–she wasn’t badass as much as she was cruel–especially when she got her men to completely destroy a town and steal the woman who would be used like cattle to bear children (definitely non-consensually). I wasn’t sad to see her go.
Amergin is the prince of the Gaedil people, the aboriginals of the land who were enslaved by the Danaan people and who intend to wage war against them to get their land back. He’s very tenacious and stubborn, and though he loves Aherne as much as she (begrudgingly) loves him, when it comes to the war, he is very professional and determined to fight for his people’s cause. I liked his charm and his insistence that he still wants to be with Aherne despite her technically being the enemy–he seems the type to work hard to get what he wants.
Cahal Umor is the just as determined and strong-minded High Chieftain of the Firbolg people, another aboriginal group allying themselves with Amergin to reclaim their land from the Danaan through war. He is also the ancestor of Alan Manduca, a man who befriend Kay before she left for Ireland and who has feelings for Kay and vice versa. It was a bit odd to read about Cahal catching feelings for Kay, too, when she has Alan, and even when she returns to her time to be with Alan, it feels like she just sees Cahal in him rather than Alan as himself. Well, the romance wasn’t heavy so I could glide over this.
The villains weren’t memorable or complicated at all. Fokmar and Fiss are two out of the three Chief Druids of the Danaan who plot to kill the next Queen and start a war with their enemy. They’re really not the brightest villains, and I didn’t get any sense of foreboding, even when their treachery is revealed. I was more nervous about the girls collecting the items than the Druid’s plans.
I could not even pronounce half the words of the places the girls went to but still I could admire the land. Melling does a great job of describing the setting in short, concise sentences instead of using flowery poetry which surely would have stretched the book. You could see how much research went into getting the place, the history and the legends accurate, though Melling states, in a short excerpt at the end of the book, that at the point of her book, historians weren’t quite sure where to place, time-wise, the Danaan legends in Celtic history.
Like I mentioned, this book plucked enough nostalgic strings for me to really find myself enjoying it, but my age allowed me to see it for what it was, and I’m glad it didn’t try to be more than that. It was a fun book that I would recommended being read out to an elementary or even middle school class, as it’s not too violent, the language is clean, and the subject is simple.
My Rating: 4/5