Haibun for a departure


On the telephone lines, the swallows gather, preparing their things for the departure, meeting old friends perhaps, rounding up children, chattering quietly of this and that and the nature of water. In their midst, a single turtle dove perches, enthralled by their stories of the great rolling sea, the rolling sky and the rolling clouds, the desert rolling bleached and bare and beyond, a place where the winter months of cold would be a cruel memory.

Is she tempted, the gentle bird, or is it he? Does he dare to imagine winter warmth and no guns? Probably not, the wild grey sea and the parched desert, shadowy images behind her anxious eyes, as she scans the meadow for fallen seeds.

an ending

an ocean of anguish

the call of home

drawing in the threads

another turn of the wheel

Book review: Conor Kelly and the Fenian King



This sequel to The Four Treasures of Eirean is a more complex, darker page of Conor Kelly’s story than the first volume.

Conor is a year older, still bound to his wheelchair, still unable to communicate verbally. He is more of an adolescent, and even more frustrated at his condition. In the first volume, it is Annalee who wheels him from one world to the next. In this book, it is Conor’s cousin Ciara, to whose tender mercies he has been left while his parents and sisters go on a walking holiday. Ciara is a (typical) student—independent, pretty slobby, and mouthy. She also discovers she is telepathic—she can communicate with Conor. When Conor receives what he believes to be a call for help from Annalee in Tir Na nOg, Ciara is up for the adventure.

The story eases us into the war-torn land of the Sidhe with a talking cat and a couple of wolfhounds who had once belonged to Fionn Mac Cumaill, and before that…But that’s another story. In fact there are so many stories within a story in this book that there is no chance that the reader will not feel completely immersed in Irish mythology.

But the story rapidly becomes darker. Talking cats, enchanted dogs, and unicorns sound relatively safe, but in this novel, Alison Isaac takes us into realms where people are not what they seem, friends become traitors, and even one’s own family is not to be trusted. There are difficult issues tackled here—love and friendship, hatred and wickedness, responsibility and forgiveness, death and loss. In the twists and turns of a plot that comes up with a surprise almost every chapter, where the story is as full of possibilities as a fairy tale, Conor has to steer his way as an adult. Tir na nOg is a place with as much unpleasantness as our own world, and is far more unpredictable.

I loved the way Conor grows to maturity as he learns to cope with family (and what family!) he never knew he had, in a context so far removed from the safe, loving environment of his human home. Ciara is a tremendous character, the kind of girl who could get you into all sorts of trouble, but who you’d be glad to have beside you once you were in it. Her presence alone gives a more mature feel to the story. The Fenian King, I would say, is a story for rather older children than the first book, as some of the complexities of the relationships might go over the heads of kids younger than twelve or so. Like The Four Treasures of Eirean, I wholeheartedly recommend Conor Kelly and the Fenian King to anyone who loves a thrilling, magical story, and can keep their head in a plot that wanders in and out of some of the loveliest of Irish legends.

You can read my review of Conor Kelly and the Four Treasures of Eirean here

Amazon UK link

Book review: Thumb

Thumb is like nothing I’ve read before, and I absolutely loved it. If this is steampunk, I’m a convert, but if you are already a fan, don’t expect steam-powered horses and musketeers taking potshots at airships. The atmosphere is more like the original Star Trek series, complete with polystyrene scenery and murky colour, but instead of being set in a studio, the playground is an immense dull orange wasteland littered with waste building materials, stretching thousands and thousands of miles, punctuated by wormholes stretching back millions and millions of years. This immensity is broken by man-made monuments that soar high above the clouds, secured and protected by chains and gun installations of colossal proportions, but higher, bigger, more colossal than anything imaginable is God. Or rather God’s body. For this wasteland strewn with rubbish is the table on which God is slowly but surely being constructed.

Into this vastness, in the shadow of God’s left thumb, John Collick has set his handful of characters. Each is a brilliantly-drawn, real human being, Max and Abby are both tough and hard-bitten, funny and a bit gauche, with enough of the little child searching for a lost affection to be terribly endearing. Even when the story veers from Indiana Jones type adventure to surreal horror, it never loses its tenderness and humour. The not so endearing characters are true products of an immense, impersonal world, cold and relentless as machines.

In this flat singularity, rolled out in space like a giant workbench, there seems to be nothing but machines. And, of course, God. Ever-present, too colossal to see, the carcass of God fills the world, the atmosphere and beyond. After a million years of work, God is almost complete; all he needs is his mind. The construction of God’s mind though, is proving a far more hazardous enterprise than all the rest, and not everything in the universe is happy about the idea of God’s completion.

Max and Abby find themselves at the centre of one of the most original concepts I have ever read in a fantasy story: protecting the creatures who each possess a part of God’s mind, from the villains, human and alien, who want to destroy them. To say any more would spoil the story.
This is a remarkably creative piece of writing, highly recommended to anyone who enjoys sci-fi/fantasy, steampunk, or 1960s TV space operas.

Thumb, by John Guy Collick