This is the first book of a fantasy trilogy that takes place in the lands of Gaelland (loosely, Ireland), and the Kotterman Empire (loosely, the Ottoman Empire). It begins in Gaelland in the sea town of Baltimore. [In real life there is a village named Baltimore in County Cork, Ireland, that was sacked in the 17th Century by Islamic pirates, with more than 100 villagers taken and sold into slavery. Apparently this incident was one of the inspirations for Lay’s story.]
As this story begins, villagers are disappearing, and the crown is blaming selkies (evil water spirits) and witches. To prevent further depredations, young girls are being burned at the stake, and the villagers are being pressed for more gold to appease “the selkies.” Fallon, the local sheriff of Baltimore, doesn’t believe in supernatural agents, and hopes to prove that it is men behind the attacks. His wife Bridgit, ever protective of Fallon and their ten-year-old son Kerrin, wants him to stay out of it, but he can’t. Not only is it his job to defend his villagers, but he has ambitions to be recognized and promoted.
But what is going wrong is clearly bigger than selkies or even random witches, and reaches right up to the top of the kingdom, where King Aidan, corrupt and licentious, rules with an iron hand, and his two sons, the naive and quixotic Cavan and the malevolent Swane are forced to do his bidding. Fallon thinks the answer lies with supporting Cavan, and ignores warnings that he is mixing into something much too evil and powerful for ordinary human beings to resist.
Discussion: This is a good plot with plenty of tension and some good characters, especially Fallon and Bridgit. But some of the writing is pretty bad, such as the dialogue uttered by Aidan (viz., “Silence! I am the King and I am always right!”) and there is a lot of repetition that could have been eliminated by better editing. Oddly, both Fallon and Cavan grow more naive as the story progresses, and the prose seems to be trying to accommodate their lack of intelligence; by the end, the narrative and speeches by Aidan were all but hitting everyone on the head with what was really going on; only Fallon and Cavan were oblivious. I think rewriting would have served this section better as well.
Nevertheless, the story is compelling, and I would like to find out what happens in the next installment.
Published by Momentum Books, division of Hour Media LLC, 2015