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: Conor Kelly and The Four Treasures of Eirean

Alison Isaac is a blogger friend and a great writer. I knew that already from reading her blog and some of her excellent short stories. We share a love of Irish history and legend (more or less the same thing) and Alison is a fund of detailed knowledge for anyone intrigued by the origins of myths. Still, her Conor Kelly stories are for children, and I wondered whether I would enjoy them. I believe we as adults judge children’s literature in very much the same way we judge any book. If it doesn’t cut the mustard for an adult, why should intelligent children like it? I came to The Four Treasures of Eirean with a bit of trepidation because I really wanted to like it. I didn’t. I loved it.

Conor Kelly is an unconventional hero. For one thing he can’t speak, for another he is bound to a wheelchair. Not exactly the first person the Sidhe would turn to in their hour of need, you’d think. Well you’d be wrong. Conor Kelly is made of stern stuff and he has the blood of Lugh Long Arm in his veins. Transported to Tir na nOg where time has a different meaning, Conor’s personal adventure runs alongside the history of his ancestors, dipping in and out of our world and the fairy world, in a plot full of action, suspense and mystery.
Conor can’t speak because he can’t command his vocal chords, not because he isn’t thinking the same thoughts as any other fourteen-year-old. When Annalee, the messenger sent by the Sidhe, reveals his latent ability to communicate telepathically, she relieves him of the frustration of never being understood. She also breaks the astonishing news that Conor is expected to save the Sidhe’s disappearing world for them. Even his physical disabilities, they insist, he can overcome if he only tries hard enough. At first Conor refuses to play along, says they need a hero with the use of all his limbs. But there is more than one type of hero, and gradually Annalee has Conor fighting villains and mythical creatures out of the mists of Irish legend.
Just because this is a book written essentially for children doesn’t mean that the characters are simplistic. One of the best things about this story, in my opinion, is the delving into the complexities of human emotions. Annalee is rarely what she seems, an enigmatic character struggling with her own demons. In a way, Conor understands, though he struggles to believe some of his suspicions. The feelings Annalee and Conor have for one another is one of the most touching things in this very touching story.
This isn’t a soft-centred, sugar coated fairy tale that pretends a severely handicapped child can defeat armies single-handed. As well as searching for the four treasures of the Sidhe, Conor hopes to find the well of healing and his own salvation. But it isn’t as simple as that; he is still just a boy in a wheelchair. But what he does discover is a tremendous strength of character and rock solid determination. He shows compassion and forgiveness as he struggles to make the right moral choices. On the way, he has to deal with hardship, death, and betrayal.
Alison Isaacs packs such a lot of tenderness into this story about a real disabled boy, dragged into a story that he fears will overwhelm him. The author knows her subject though, and she guides Conor through his adventures with an expert and sensitive hand.
I recommend this story to anyone over the age of ten or so who enjoys a good story and good storytelling and knows how to recognise a real hero.

Amazon US link