Author – Shauna Lawless
Pages – 434
Publishing Information – Ad Astra, Head of Zeus, September 2022.
The One Sentence Review
A triumphant debut that pulls you into late 10th century Ireland, expertly combining events inspired by real history with intriguing magic and an absolutely fantastic level of political intrigue and knowledge of the time period that had me flying through the pages.
They think they’ve killed the last of us…
981 AD. The Viking King of Dublin is dead. His young widow, Gormflaith, has ambitions for her son – and herself – but Ireland is a dangerous place and kings tend not to stay kings for long. Gormflaith also has a secret. She is one of the Fomorians, an immortal race who can do fire-magic. She has kept her powers hidden at all costs, for there are other immortals in this world – like the Tuatha Dé Danann, a race of warriors who are sworn to kill Fomorians.
Fódla is one of the Tuatha Dé Danann with the gift of healing. Her kind dwell hidden in a fortress, forbidden to live amongst the mortals. Fódla agrees to help her kin by going to spy on Brian Boru, a powerful man who aims to be High King of Ireland. She finds a land on the brink of war – a war she is desperate to stop. However, preventing the loss of mortal lives is not easy with Ireland in turmoil and the Fomorians now on the rise…
Have no fear… I always get what I want. In the end.
I think I may have a new favourite character. Her name is Gormflaith. More on her in a moment!
With confidence, this book has cemented in my mind the feeling that my favourite genre is now historical fiction with a bit of magic thrown in and if you enjoyed Northern Wrath or Sistersong, there’s probably no reason to read the rest of my review – just buy the book! Now.
The Children of Gods and Fighting Men is a beautiful book and that starts from the second you see it with absolutely stunning cover art that just looks magical.
From the first page, you are drawn into the world Shauna Lawless has created – a real world from the past, with creative licence to spice it up even further. Her flowing prose and way with words makes it so easy to relax and transport yourself to 10th century Ireland and immerse yourself in the surroundings as you read.
As lovely as the locations are, to keep you there, there has to be something to make you want to continue turning the pages. And for me, that was the extraordinary political intrigue Lawless has managed to weave through a tale also full of impressive historical references, Irish mythology that I now really want to learn more about and an interesting conflict between two long-lived groups of magic users.
These are the Formians and the Tuatha Dé Danann (The Descendants of Gods), our two POV characters Gormflaith and Fódla belonging to the former and the latter respectively.
Our story picks up where there are very few Formians left in the world; in fact, the Descendants believe they’ve wiped them all out. Rather than oppressive conquerors however, the Descendants believe they are protecting mortal humanity from the Formians and we learn they punish their own harshly if they try to take advantage of the shorter-lived humans for their own gain.
When Fódla’s sister becomes pregnant with a mortal’s child, she is banished and forced to give up her baby, which is what really kicks off the events of Fódla’s story. I really enjoyed her character and in many respects she’s the more sympathetic of the two POV characters. The pages I found myself charging through even faster though were those belonging to Gormflaith. She’s a match for any Littlefinger, Tywin or Cersei if you’re familiar with A Song of Ice and Fire – and although I’m not usually a huge fan of comparing books to hugely popular series, the political manoeuvrings of Gormflaith are just as mouth watering and exciting.
It’s a marvel really that with her first published novel, Lawless has the skillset to pull this off. For me this was to the extent where I’m metaphorically applauding and physically smiling at the page at Gormflaith’s schemes and how well written and planned out they are. She’s a mother and her mother’s love is the driving force, manoeuvring the pieces around her mortal son Sitric (and of course herself) on the chessboard of life.
In such an aggressively patriarchal society as Europe in the middle ages, Gormflaith has to use her high intellect to navigate diplomacy and tradition in a world of men in positions of power. Her ruthless determination and willingness to achieve her goals through a variety of means makes her such an interesting and exciting character to follow.
On the time period, the author was either already really knowledgeable or did a ton of research, because as far as I can see it is such a fantastic historical representation of the time period; the culture, society, attitudes. The world just feels so much more authentic than many novels set in or inspired by periods in the middle ages because of the craft and care taken to make it so, and I really hope other readers pick up on this too.
If you choose to read it, it’s something you might feel rather than be able to point to something specific, but there were a ton of little nuances and bigger things too that made a great book an absolutely fantastic book. This was a time period in which many followers of the Norse Gods were converting to Christianity, yet still very much had that conflict of cultures and values in which both Christianity and Paganism were jostling with one another or coinciding in an uneasy peace at times. Even this feeling and atmosphere is captured perfectly which is just brilliant to me.
The sheer amount of work Lawless has put in here to write an engaging story whilst incorporating history and mythology and the whole feel of that time period, feeling 100% authentic in every way is awe inspiring. To do this whilst also writing strong, interesting and believable characters that you love is incredible and I’ll be at the front of the queue for any further books the author writes (though I think she deserves a little break first!).
Books like this make reviewing a real pleasure. I thoroughly recommend it!
Thankyou to Ad Astra/Head of Zeus, Paige and Shauna Lawless for having me on the blog tour and allowing me to read this arc in exchange for my honest review.
The Blog Tour
About the Author
Shauna Lawless is an avid reader of Irish mythology and folklore. As an Irish woman,
she loves that Irish mythology has inspired so many stories over the years, however,
she wanted to explore the history and mythology of Ireland in a more authentic way.
She lives in Northern Ireland with her family.