Review: Liath Luachra: The Grey One by Brian O’Sullivan

*stabby stab*

I really liked the last Fionn mac Cumhaill book that I read. I thought it was an interesting sort of retelling of Irish Mythology with a bit of modern language. My favorite character in the book was undoubtedly Liath Luachra, and so getting this prequel novel with her backstory was really awesome.

And I did get a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Ireland 188 A.D: A land of tribal affiliations, secret alliances and treacherous rivalries. 

Youthful woman warrior Liath Luachra has survived two brutal years fighting with mercenary war party “The Friendly Ones” but now the winds are shifting. 
Dispatched on a murderous errand where nothing is as it seems, she must survive a group of treacherous comrades, the unwanted advances of her battle leader and a personal history that might be her own undoing. 

Clanless and friendless, she can count on nothing but her wits, her fighting skills and her natural ferocity to see her through. 

Woman warrior, survivor, killer and future guardian to Irish hero Fionn mac Cumhaill – this is her story.

‘There are twelve men, Liath Luachra. Twelve men.’

‘Are there twelve men or is it that you can only count to twelve?’ A momentary silence passed between them.

‘There are twelve men,’ he insisted, an aggrieved tone to his voice.

This might be one of the first Irish mythology characters whose name I pronounce correctly in my head. That’s notable, because to a native English speaker with no real experience of the Irish language, it is probably one of the least ‘it’s pronounced like it’s spelled’ languages in the history of languages. That said, I find it such a pretty language, and so Brian O’Sullivan’s books are intriguing to me because he uses Irish in a way that even I can somewhat understand it. That makes me want to pronounce words correctly in my head, instead of filing them under ‘spelled right, but probably pronounced nowhere near how you think it is’ in the ol’ brainspace. It helps that the author has a lovely little spoken pronunciation section on his website. It doesn’t include too many names and words from this particular volume, but it is helpful all the same.

So, like the other books in the same series, this book has a good amount of Irish vocab sprinkled into it. Though these words are used, and then defined, and then used throughout for context, it doesn’t feel like a vocabulary lesson. The language gives the story a lot of realism, and it immersed me into it, by putting me, in a small way, into this world. So I, who am not Irish, but can trace a good portion of my family tree there, feel like I’m reading something traditional. Like a door into folklore, or stories passed down. It uses a language I am unfamiliar with in a way that makes me a little more familiar with it, so it makes these stories and characters more real.

This volume is the story of Liath Luachra, the warrior woman who is one of Fionn mac Cumhaill’s guardians in the Fenian Cycle of Irish mythology. This story happens before she met Bodhmhall. A prequel to Defence of Ráth Bládhma, if you will.

I still love Liath Luachra’s snarkitude. She doesn’t let anyone tell her what to do, and she’ll bite if pressed. We got a lot of her backstory here, which was really well done. She’s traveling with a warrior band (that’s a fian – SEE, I AM PAYING ATTENTIONand is sent on a mission by the leader to take on a bit of an assassination for another clan. She travels with three other fénnid (members of the fian – see, I’m getting good at this now), two of whom she mostly hates (and mostly for damn good reason), and one member of the clan who hired them to go achieve this. And then shenanigans (I won’t spoil it for you, but some shit goes down). As the story progresses, Liath Luachra finds herself sometimes reminiscing about her past events. Most of these events are not at all good. Liath Luachra does not lead a happy life. She’s only like sixteen during this story, too, and just… has already had a really bad go of it. Nonetheless, the story has ups to counteract the downs, twists and turns that make it exciting, and a great ending that wrapped up the story.

This book is dark AF, and as such, is sometimes depressing, or maddening, as characters are or do things that are abhorrent, but it clearly makes them the characters that you want to see get theirs, so to speak. It made it quite easy to root for Liath Luachra and to also root for the eventual comeuppance of the characters in the wrong. There is grimness here. There’s fighting, gore, rape, death, and disease. There’s swearing, sex, drinking, and drug abuse. As a book, it’s got things that might make some people uncomfortable, but it uses them to tell a dark, gritty and realistic story. But, if you can’t handle grit and grim, you might want to skip it.

The second century was probably a pretty grim time to live in. Being in a band of warriors traveling around the country with the intent of killing a bunch of dudes and pillaging the fuck out of the countryside probably makes life pretty grim on its own. They’re also drunk or on mushrooms like a quarter of the time, too, so… there’s also that. But, Liath Luachra is a good character to read about because she endures, due to a nice healthy dose of badassitude. She has help, sometimes, even when she doesn’t think she needs it… but throughout the book, she survives on sheer fucking badassitude. And mushrooms. Mostly the badassitude though.

It is totally a word! Mr. Torgue says so! (click for video evidence)

All told, I liked it. I thought it was a good story, and a good backstory for my favorite character from the Fionn series. It was harrowing at times, it made me uncomfortable at times, but that made the story all the more real.

I hope to continue the story of Fionn sooner rather than later!


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