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