Fact and folklore join forces in Blood Brother, Swan Sister

Fact and Irish folklore join forces in Eithne Massey’s sixth novel, Blood Brother, Swan Sister.

This is an exciting and magical novel for young adults.  Set in Dublin in 1014, the story follows four children caught up in events surrounding the Battle of Clontarf. This famous battle was a major event in Irish history.  King Brian Boru’s army defeated the combined forces of the Viking leaders Sitric and Brodir of Mann.

Dara is a young boy determined to support King Brian Boru, He is allowed to accompany his father to battle. It’s his first time in Dublin. The city is a  thrilling and busy place and it feeds his excitement about the coming battle. As Dara explores the city in the days before battle, he meets Elva. She is a young girl worried about her ethereal elder half-sister who has fallen under the influence of the evil queen, Kormlada.

Meanwhile, a young Viking boy, Skari,  is also wandering in Dublin. Skari arrived in the city by longship. He travelled with a large Viking fleet assembling to support King Sitric in the battle against Brian Boru.

As the story unfolds, the links between Skari and the other three children gradually unfold.

Excitement and fear

The days leading up to the battle are both exciting and dangerous. Drawing on fact, folklore and mythology, Massey conjures up excitement and fear as Viking Dublin comes alive in the pages of Blood Brother, Swan Sister. Published by O’Brien Press, Blood Brother, Swan Sister is a novel for children that will have particular appeal in 2014, the 1000-year anniversary of the Battle of Clontarf.

If you like this kind of fiction, you might also like Where the Stones Sing by Eithne Massey.

Where the Stones Sing by Eithne Massey

Book reviewers, bloggers, parents and teachers with an interest in children’s literature should keep an eye out for the Irish novelist, Eithne Massey.  Her latest work, set in Dublin’s Christchurch Cathedral,  tells the story of a young girl, Kai, who is taken from begging on the streets to join the  choir of Dublin’s Christchurch cathedral. Although Kai is sad to leave her travelling father and her brother, Edward, she is happy to be able to stay in one place for a change. She moves in to the Cathedral and quickly makes friends with two other choristers – Tom and Jack – but she has to conceal the fact that she is a girl which is not always easy, particularly when she spends time with the Dame Maria.

Medieval Dublin comes to life in this novel entitled Where the Stones Sing. The city is portrayed as an exciting and enticing place where ships bring wonderful silks and spices and stone to the merchants of the city and horses and sheep are as likely to be found on the streets as people. It it also a dangerous place where Kai must be careful to avoid street fights. The city becomes even more dangerous when rats carry the plague ashore from ships in the port. Soon, death is everywhere and Kai’s friends are not left untouched. Inevitably her secret must come out and the tension builds as the novel reaches its conclusion.

This is warm and beautifully written story that was inspired by the Friends of Christchurch who wanted to commission a children’s book to celebrate the cathedral. The stones in the title are the stones of the cathedral itself. They resonate with the memory of songs from across the generations who have worshipped there, a device that successfully brings the cathedral itself to life and makes it a central character in the novel.

The novel is illustrated with photographs from the cathedral and there are some suggested activities for children who visit the cathedral as a result of reading Where the Stones Sing. Package a visit with a trip to the Dublinia exhibition which is just across the street from the Christchurch and you have the makings of a great day out.

Where the Stones Sing is published by O’Brien Press, 2011.

If you like Irish historical fiction for young adults, you might also like Blood Brother, Swan Sister by Eithne Massey.

Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery

Everyone seems to belong to a book club these days. Recently, at a rather dull dinner, I met an interesting elderly lady who told me that she had been re-reading books from her childhood and that only one that really stood the test of time and was as enjoyable on a mature reading was Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery.

Her observation stayed on my mind because Anne of Green Gables was one of my own favourite books from childhood. I resolved to read it again and, this week, I finally did just that. It was my first download for my new Amazon Kindle and I have been engrossed for two or three days. It’s such a joyful book – full of childish wonder and joy in the miracles and beauty of the natural world – full of rich imagination, warm, enthusiastic and uplifiting. It’s also a good story that pulls at the heartstrings without falling into sentimentality.

I’d forgotten most of the story – Anne’s orphaned background, her relationship with her adopted family, her academic rivalry with Gilbert Blythe, her friendship with Diana. What had stayed with me was a memory of her room at Green Gables and a sense of the wonderful richness of the countryside and her joy in it. Spring is a wonderful time to re-read Anne of Green Gables. I loved it so much I’m sorely tempted to re-read the other titles in the series.

If your book club is looking for an easy to read classic, Anne of Green Gables would be a good choice. And, who knows, maybe a trip to Prince Edward Island can be arranged. I hope so.