Though I’m not the biggest reader of historical fantasy, I adore books that take inspiration from myth and folklore. I’m also a history nerd who was fascinated to find a fantasy book set during the Saxon invasion. It’s not a period that you see many books set during, so I’ve been excited about this one for a while. I’ve been meaning to get to this book since it was released last year, so I was happy to get on the paperback tour with Black Crow PR.
As well as talking about the book in general, I will be talking about the use of folklore. I’m not hugely familiar with The Twa Sisters, as ballads aren’t my area of expertise, but I like how this one was retold. As well as that, we have hints of other tales from Cornwall and a nice mix of Celtic – and Norse – folktales. Some of these are seemingly original to the text, whilst others are connected with tales that we all know.
My overall review is that I very much enjoyed this book.
We have three protagonists in this book. Two sisters and a trans brother. Throughout this book, you see Keyne’s growth and the realisation that, yes, he is a man, and he can present that way to the world. It isn’t easy, and he certainly deals with some misogyny and transphobia, but I loved seeing a character in that sort of time dealing with that. In many ways, he felt like a King Arthur figure, though that isn’t the name he chose for himself. But his relationships with Myrdhin and Gwen definitely painted that sort of picture. As well as the fun easter egg of the horse being called Nimue. That was pretty cool with Cornwall being one of the supposed locations of King Arthur.
Riva, the eldest sister I felt for at first, but as the book went on I liked her less and less. She certainly had plenty of struggles, but she also felt pretty foolish. It felt obvious to me from very early on who Tristian actually was, yet she fell for it so easily. Then she was so willing to put her family aside. Obviously, they fix things, and the ending made me cry, but boy, it was difficult.
Finally, I disliked Sinne for most of the book. She was selfish and nasty, but she also gave Os a chance when everyone else just made assumptions about him. When she heard that Keyne was a boy, she was the first family member to accept it, and I appreciated her. Sinne is the character who made me sob the hardest, and honestly, I think she was a great character. You needed that dislike at the beginning and the growth to really understand her, and I appreciate the skill that Holland did that with.
The language in this book was pretty but easy to read. There were some very lyrical parts but also plenty of action. Each narrating character’s voice stood out, and I know that’s something that can be hard to do when the characters have all had a very similar upbringing.
Where this book was strongest, however, was, as I said before, the use of folklore.
This book included tales that were actually told and some that weren’t.
There’s a ballad in this called the Five Rivers of Lyr, which according to my research whilst reading, doesn’t exist, but there was a folktale called the Children of Lyr. The tales aren’t the same, but you see the inspiration that Holland took and why she told the story in this way. These ballads were probably my favourite part of the book. I highly appreciated how true these new ballads felt.
This quote was my favourite line in the book. This is the final line of The Five Rivers of Lyr, and like in a real ballad or folktale, it feels like a possibility. The rivers do still exist, so this god has kept his promise. But it also serves as a warning, as so many folktales do. Don’t become too greedy, because what you want could be used against you. Everything about this version of the folktale felt like it was one that I had read, but I could find nowhere that I had read anything even remotely familiar. It just had the perfect feel and cadence.
The regular use of Lyr was pretty interesting. We don’t know a huge amount about the Celtic deities but what we do know is that Lyr is usually most closely associated with Ireland rather than Cornwall. Apparently, Cornwall’s close ties were with Brittany and Wales, so their beliefs were probably closer to theirs than Ireland. But this was still pretty cool. I don’t know whether all these separate Celtic cultures would have had the same gods or not, so this book has stirred a desire to look more into that. I trust that Holland probably does have the right idea. I’m still unsure if the name Mori was supposed to be more associated with Morgan le Fay or the Morrigan. Either way is pretty cool.
This book also included a retelling of The Wild Hunt. This was a folktale and ballad that was making the rounds back then. The version in this book appears to be the Norse variety. The king who joined the hunt went by the name Herla, which was common in the British versions. And was often associated with Woden, who was an Anglo-Saxon god. But the creatures Herla met were dwarves, who we know of from Norse folklore. So this tale is a cobbled-together version, and I liked that. We get to see a mix of these different tales and gods and get a wider experience of a part of UK history that we rarely see.
Folklore and mythology can be a fascinating way to dive into the history of a culture. We know these are things that cannot have really happened. The characters in this book won’t have an understanding of how rivers are actually formed, so the idea of a water god transforming his sons into them makes sense. Folklore shows us how people were trying to understand the world around them and often the things they loved or were scared of. And that’s something that this book portrayed so well. That final ballad was tinged with pain and fear, partially because we saw the events happen, but mostly because we know the impact it would have on the characters. We look at folklore now just as these tales to be told, but back then, they may have meant more. I adore how Holland highlighted that in this book.
Overall this was such an enjoyable book, and I recommend it to all.
Author: Lucy Holland
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Age Range: Adult
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Release Date: 28/04/22