In an effort to bring all my reviews to heel, I’ll be re-posting some favorite past reviews of mine. Many were sent to me by either the author or publisher for review. I thank them for their generosity!
A Secret Hope (Sword and Spirit Series Book 1) by Renee Yancey
This isn’t the first fictionalized book about ancient Ireland that I have read (Hush: An Irish Princess’ Tale, Confessions of a Pagan Nun: A Novel, and Maire all spring to mind), but it is definitely one of the best ones that I have read.
Ciara is an Irish princess who has never felt quite content with the status quo. Raised by her widowed father, in her 15th year she is sent to live with relatives to learn the ways of the ancient Irish court and the even more ancient ways of the Druids. While there, she attracts the attention of 2 young warriors, Aedan and Seamus and, in return, is attracted to Aedan. It may seem like a love triangle waiting to happen but it becomes all the more complicated when, at a Lugnasa fair, she catches the eye of Lorcan, an old enemy of her father, who later exploits the weakness of her father’s kingdom to blackmail Ciara’s father into giving her hand in marriage.
To further complicate matters, even though Ciara is being tutored in the ways of the Druids, she still finds herself unable to fully embrace their belief system and draws the ire of Ronan, a very powerful Druid high priest. Ciara has the gift of prophecy and Ronan and the other high priests are itching at the chance to exploit this gift — especially when she foretells the arrival of a stranger who will spell the downfall of the Druids and their gods.
Some inconvenient missteps of the part of Ciara due to this gift if prophecy and inability to fully believe in the gods force her return to her father’s kingdom – much to the consternation of both Aedan and Seamus – and it is during this trip back that she is kidnapped by Lorcan who plans to enact his right to be betrothed to Ciara.
Lorcan was one of the most interesting characters in the book. At first glance, he is bad simply for the sake of being bad. However, as the story unfolds the true reason behind Lorcan’s wickedness is brought to light and was a twist that I didn’t see coming. He may have started out as a caricature but he ends up as a fully 3 dimensional – and reviled – character.
Ciara attempts to escape Lorcan’s clutches, and manages to, with the assistance of Aedan who has not stopped looking for her. The 2 manage to spend some time together (:wink wink nudge nudge:) until a powerful geis, or curse, is put upon Ciara by a Druid in Lorcan’s household. Because of Ciara’s second sight, she gets the message of the geis, return to Lorcan or Aedan will go insane, and decides to not tempt fate (as it were) and returns to Lorcan.
A number of months later, an unknowingly pregnant Ciara, who also studied healing while living at her relatives, has the chance to possibly end her suffering…permanently…and escape Lorcan’s clutches when she attends to his grievously injured self. However, she does not and this action serves to be a bit of a detente between the 2. However, how long the peace will last remains to be seen.
The time around the confirmation of Ciara’s pregnancy and subsequent of her son is one of upheaval. The prophecy of the foreigner – Patrick – who will spell the end of the old ways has a arrived and Ciara, along with her slave, Eleri, become converts to this new religion.
Lorcan is not amused.
However…what happens next? Well, that’s for you to read! I can’t go and spoil it all! Where’s the fun in that? Plus, you’d be missing out on reading this amazing book that has to be the next best thing to time travel!
Ms. Yancy’s love for the setting is abundantly apparent due to the amount of research that must have been done to capture a time and a place that is, to this modern day reader, otherworldly. Add to that the fact that the ceremonies and practices of the ancient Druids were all oral, and rarely, if ever, written down, and you have just upped the ante extraordinarily so.
One drawback, for me, was I did get a bit confused on the timing of everything. While the ancient Celts followed a very seasonal calendar and had holidays that reflected time for the harvest, time for spring, etc, I did find myself sometimes having to go back to exactly figure out what time of year it was supposed to be. However, that was just a minor inconvenience and in the grand scheme of the whole book and might have just been a case of me not fully paying attention when a rough timeline had been plotted out a few pages earlier. I was also left a little confused as to the Anglicization of Patrick’s name rather than him being called his Gaelic equivalent. Ms. Yancy also noted fully recognized that there were some grammatical errors so I do appreciate her forthrightness in regards to that. I don’t know if it was because I was reading a copy on my Kindle app – and not an actual Kindle – but towards the last few pages, the formatting got a bit wonky. Nothing major and none of the story appeared to be truncated. It was, at most, just a bit distracting. Again, these points did not take away from the overall story, but, grammatical issues and formatting aside, did have me scratching my head just a bit.
I do hope this is the beginning of a multi-book series! The fate of some pretty key supporting characters were left with big question marks so, if this is a series, perhaps they will be the stars of the upcoming books? Despite my confusion over his name, Ms. Yancy’s characterization of (St.) Patrick was also very fascinating and to see him also take the lead in some upcoming books would be very welcome as he didn’t show up until towards the end in this one.
As this point really didn’t fit in with any of my other paragraphs, the arch of the story that revolved around Ciara’s medical abilities was also very well researched and thoughtfully included in various parts of the story that called for a healer’s touch.
All in all, I am so glad I had the chance to read this book. If you are a fan of historical fiction, like your historical fiction faith-based, and/or have an itch to visit Ireland but find yourself not able to get there just yet, immerse yourself in this book. You will not be disappointed! What are you waiting for? Go download this to your Kindle!
Disclosure: Special thanks to Ms. Yancy for providing a gratis copy for me to read so I could offer an honest review in return. Sometimes, when an author provides a copy of their book to be read, quite frankly, you never know what you’re going to get. Thankfully, this is one I can completely and 100% recommend!