Loosely based on Irish mythology Lenahan’s book follows teenager Conor’s journey to Tir na Nog, a mystical land where magic, leprechauns, imps and banshees are real. Without giving anything away Conor’s dad turns out to be the usurped heir to the throne and Conor along with the faithful friends he makes along the way must help his dad regain the throne from the evil Cailte.
I am a big fan of fantasy books, I think my love of them probably started with Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree series, moved on through the “Choose Your Own Adventure Books” was fanned by ITV’s cartoon Dungeons and Dragons and cemented by The Chronicles of Narnia. All of these fantasy stories are aimed at and enjoyed by children and it wasn’t till I was 16 and had an entire summer off that I read The Hobbit and subsequently The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I’m sure some would question why I distinguish the J.R.R. Tolkein’s stories from the others, well it’s quite simple. In my opinion these were fantasy books for adults, they were darker than anything I’d ever read before, the scrapes Jo, Bessie and Fanny got into with Moonface and The Saucepan Man taught me simple childhood lessons, actions have consequences, rudeness and mischief will be punished, the importance of accepting people different to you, and that good behaviour will generally be rewarded one way or another. Whereas I felt when reading Tolkein’s books that I was being given a lesson on the world and politics.
So where does Shadowmagic fall?
Shadowmagic is aimed at young adults, 12 and upwards and in that sense the lessons within are definitely more about developing skills for life than some greater world philosophy. In this book we join Conor as he develops courage, insight, empathy, we see him coming to grips with his new life and role in Tir na Nog. I’m sure the subsequent books Shadowmagic: The Prince of Hazel and Oak and Shadowmagic: Sons of Macha will see him face more challenges which help him to continue to grow and develop further skills such as leadership, strength (both physical and mental), understanding, compassion etc. Of course I could be completely wrong Lenahan may have something entirely different up his sleeve, he is a magician by trade!
I truly didn’t know what to expect of the book when I started, however finishing it in just over 24 hours tells me a lot. You cannot help but keep turning the pages with this one. Unlike a number of fantasy books I’ve read, there is no slow descriptive scene setting start, within the first few pages you are bang in the middle of the action. What better way to draw in a young reader, or any age reader at that.
The story is told in first person from Conor’s perspective and there are a small number of occasions when he says annoying pratish things which I have to admit did make me groan a little and roll my eyes. However, I am not now nor have I ever been an 18 year old boy and it is quite possible that they are completely in fitting with how a boy of that age would think and act. That said, these occasions are few and far between and in no way spoil the flow of the book or my enjoyment of the character.
Lenahan does well to keep the story moving avoiding the pitfall of chapters of pure history and scene setting. However, I have Irish heritage and a keen interest in Irish mythology and there were times when I found myself wanting stronger links and maybe more information on the myths he is alluding to. I also felt that in a bid to keep the reader engaged and the story moving there are a couple of instances where the story and character development lose out. Without spoiling the plot, the changing role of Aunt Nieve is handled far too simply for me. I felt it was so quickly swept over it reminded me a little bit of the “and I woke up and it was all a dream” ending I used to use in my childhood stories when I didn’t quite know how to end it, or when I just couldn’t be bothered anymore. This was probably the most disappointing part of the book as our first and second meetings with Nieve are so strong and powerful it is a shame to see her fade.
But without a doubt I would recommend the book to others, not as a great feat of fantasy writing which will live from generation to generation but as a quick paced, light, fun adventure story. What more can an author wish for than for people to enjoy their book and want to read more; and like many other readers, I’m sure, the ending left me wanting to continue the journey with Conor and find out more about the mythical land of Tir na Nog and the creatures and people who live there.