Ali Isaac, book review, Conor Kelly, gods and warriors, Heroes, Ireland, Irish mythology, Tir na Nog, YA epic fantasy
I had an email recently that made me think about heroes. The son of one of the members of bomber crew B-17 Nobody’s Baby who had flown with my father in the second World War sent copies of some of their travel orders. Seventy years ago, the young crew arrived in Wales after flying from Maine to Newfoundland. All were under age 22. As I wrote here, all were heroes.
As a writer, I think about what makes a hero. Sure, heroes can be the larger than life warriors who win fantastic battles against huge odds. They are Ulysses, Alexander the Great, Charlemagne. With a little stretch of the imagination, they are Hercules, Superman, Thor. But sometimes, heroes are…us. In our world, they are Rosa Parkes refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger sixty years ago this month in segregated Alabama. Or maybe the hero is Malala Yousafzai, shot in the head at age fifteen for promoting education for girls in Pakistan. In fictional worlds, they are three children who save Narnia. They are young wizard Harry Potter confronting ultimate evil or a little girl trying to get home in The Wizard of Oz.
One of the most unusual fictional heroes I’ve ever encountered is Conor Kelly, a fifteen-year-old wheelchair bound Irish boy who can’t walk or talk. Author Ali Isaac takes us on Conor’s journey in the first two books of her Tir Na Nog trilogy.
My Review: 5 out of 5 stars for Ali Isaac’s Tir Na Nog Trilogy (books 1 and 2)
In her Tir Na Nog Trilogy, author Ali Isaac introduces us to one of the most unlikely epic heroes ever. Conor Kelly is a fifteen-year-old boy confined to a wheelchair, unable to walk or talk. But he lives in his head, and it’s there we find out that there is so much more to Conor. When he’s kidnapped by the cold but oddly compelling princess Annalee of the mythical Sidhe, Conor discovers that he’s able use an unsuspected Sidhe heritage to communicate his thoughts.
Both books of the trilogy are fully satisfying stand-alone story arcs. In Book 1, Annalee takes Conor to Tir na Nog, the home of legendary warriors and immortals of the Sidhe. As Conor accepts the quest for the ancient treasures that will safeguard the Sidhe, he also begins his quest to overcome or at least come to terms with his own physical limitations. Like every good hero quest, at its essence Conor is searching for definition of who and what he is. Learning that he’s the descendent of the famous Lugh, king and warrior of legend, is only the beginning.
In Book 2, Conor is back in the nonmagical world of everyday Ireland. But the world he left behind reaches out to him again when Annalee is taken prisoner, accused of the murder of her father. Coupled with this is a war between the Sidhe, a brother under curse to kill him, and a nonmagical cousin who questions everything she sees.
The two books I’ve read so far are an amazing achievement. Not only do they provide the adventure and excitement necessary to carry any YA epic, but they also showcase the growth—even when not always positive—of one of the most unusual heroes I’ve yet encountered. As I discovered back in the dark ages when I was a college student majoring in Anglo-Irish literature and wading through Lady Augusta Gregory’s Gods and Fighting Men , the Irish pantheon of gods and heroes is mind-numbingly vast and complex. Author Ali Isaac does introduce a huge cast of them in the two books so far. Luckily for bemused readers, her clever solution for weaving between past and present plus real and magical worlds lets us keep the players straight. Plus she offers amusing modern takes on past characters and events (such as star-crossed lovers Diarmuid and Grania, the Romeo and Juliet of ancient Irish tales)—as related by a pair of magical dogs:
Sceolán’s lip twitched in a soft snarl. Grainne was King Cormac’s daughter, and if ever there was a spoiled, manipulative, selfish little Princess, it was she.
Bran explained. She was also Fionn’s third wife. She eloped on their wedding night with one of Fionn’s best friends, Diarmuid.
“Wow! What a bitch,” exclaimed Ciara, adding quickly, “Er, sorry, Sceolán.”
As the story develops through both books, it’s fascinating to see the changes in Conor. Used to being completely helpless, he’s skeptical and slow to take advantage of the power he finds within himself. But as he gains confidence, we see him develop into a self-assured young man, able to make—and live with—difficult choices. Interestingly, by the end of Book 2, that isn’t always an attractive trait. Caught between two worlds, Conor lacks empathy even for the family who raised him:
He imagined his mother’s uneasy smile, and tuned out. It didn’t matter what they thought or felt. He didn’t fit into their world any more than they fitted into Tir na Nog. He didn’t know where he belonged anymore. It occurred to him that he owed this mortal woman something for the selfless way she had adopted him into her heart, and ridden the wave of his disability as the enormity of it unfolded through the years. He buried the thought in self-pity.
Like any fifteen-year-old, Conor has more growing up to do. He’s a mix of power and frustration, bravery and self-pity. He also has another quest waiting. I can’t wait to read the final book of the trilogy, and see how these threads are resolved.
**I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.**
Author Ali Isaac
As a child… I always had my nose in a book, in several, actually, all at the same time. I spoke a unique hybrid language of English, French, Greek, Italian and Arabic. I had a pet donkey, rode a chopper bike, and was (fairly) fearless on a skateboard. I didn’t go to school until I was seven years old. I had a phobia about scorpions, swam every day, went barefoot even in winter, and was almost betrothed to an Arabian Bedouin prince.
Fast forward… and life is much more conventional. I am married with three children and a dog. I live in rural Ireland, where I get to hang out with my imaginary friends. I fear spiders instead of scorpions. I never go shoe-less. I walk, rather than swim. I spend much of my time visiting ruined ancient buildings, and dreaming of the distant past. It’s easy to do that in Ireland; you’re never more than a footstep away from history.
I always dreamed… of watching the sun rise over Macchu Picchu on the morning of the Millennium. I’m proud to say I achieved that, although a few months early. It was as magical a moment as I had anticipated. I always dreamed of writing a book. I’m proud to say I have achieved that too, in fact, I’ve written two. I always dreamed that Victor Ambrus would illustrate my books, and that my books would one day be made into a blockbuster movie. Yeah, I’m still dreaming…
I write for many reasons… to tell a story, of course. Every writer has their own story to tell. I write to challenge my reader’s perceptions, because sometimes, things are not at all how they appear. I write to educate, because my life has taught me things no one else knows, and its my duty to share. I write for sheer pleasure, but mostly, I write to be read.
I read… all the time, mostly on my Kindle Android app. I especially love to read in bed at night. I have discovered a whole new world of wonderful Indie authors, such as Jay Howard, Rachele Baker, Kathy Krisko, Jane Dougherty, Craig Boyack, Nickolas C Rossis, Peyton Reynolds, Grace Jolliffe, Allie Cresswell, Patrick de Moss, Mira Prabhu, Dax Christopher, and many others. Other writers I admire are George RR Martin, Rick Riordon, Alex Scarrow, Rosemary Sutcliffe, Alan Early, David Eddings, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Richard Adams, among others.
I blog… on subjects of Irish interest relating to Irish mythology, archaeology, and history on my blog http://www.aliisaacstoryteller.com. I also blog about my experiences raising a child with special needs.
I contribute… regular articles on Irish mythology to Irish Central and Brigid’s Fire magazine. I love what I do, and I hope you enjoy it too!
Contact Links For Ali Isaac
Facebook | Blog | Goodreads | Twitter
Conor Kelly and the Four Treasures of Eirean (Book 1)
Conor Kelly is not your average hero. He can’t walk. He can’t talk, but his mind is as active and alert as that of any teenage boy. On the outside, however, he’s about as interactive as a lump of wood. Then he meets Annalee. She claims to be a Sidhe Princess, some kind of fairy royalty, apparently. She offers to take him into the magical realm, where her people wield the power to help him. But is she just some child-snatching lunatic psychopath, or can she be trusted? On the other hand, what’s he got to lose? He soon discovers that Tir na Nog is not the benign, dreamy land of legend. Nor are its inhabitants, the Sidhe, the benevolent fairy folk of Irish mythology. To accept their help has a cost, but for someone who doesn’t value his life, death is a risk worth taking. With the blood of Lugh, God of Lightning, tingling in his veins, the boy in the wheelchair must dig deep, if he is to unlock the inherited powers dormant within him. Only he can defy disgraced Sidhe-King, Bres, who seeks to avenge himself on his brethren, and subject all mankind to his tyranny. In the race to recover the legendary lost talismans of power, the Four Treasures of Eirean, before Bres gets his hands on them and becomes invincible, Conor begins to wonder just whose side Annalee is on, as her chequered past comes to light. There are other obstacles, too; Ruairi, the Chieftain’s son, and worse, his own crippling self-doubt. Not that anything’s going to stop him. For the first time in his life, Conor finds he is not restricted by his physical limitations. Still, it’s not going to be easy. Nothing worth fighting for ever is. Book One of The Tir na Nog Trilogy begins an epic fantasy adventure which takes us back in time to the shadowy past of Ireland’s long lost legend, where fairy Kings and Gods walked amongst mortals, and where feats of magic, swordsmanship and courage were customary. Here amidst the ancient stones of Newgrange and Tara, Conor discovers that anyone, no matter how unlikely, can still be a hero.
Conor Kelly and the Fenian King (Book 2)
It’s happened again. Somehow, Sidhe-Princess Annalee has embroiled Conor in another hopeless quest on behalf of her people, Ireland’s fairy folk, the Sidhe. Last time, he very nearly got himself killed. This time, things look even worse. For a start, Annalee can’t help him. She’s been imprisoned, accused of murdering her own father. The people of the magical realm are at war amongst themselves, whilst Tir na Nog crumbles into the sea and disaster strikes. The sacred sisterhood of the Morrigan has arisen, wreaking havoc and destruction which threatens not only the future of the magical realm, but the world of mortals too. The Morrigan must be stopped, but how? The heroes of old are all long gone. Conor Kelly can’t walk. He can’t talk. He’s just a boy in a wheelchair, but with the help of feisty side-kick Ciara, his drop-out cousin, Conor sets out in search of the mysterious Fenian King, prophecied of old to awake from his slumber beneath the green hills of Ireland, and ride to the aid of his people in their hour of greatest need. Along the way, Conor unearths a personal secret which undermines all he has believed about his own identity, throwing him deep into confusion. Beset by uncertainty and fear, the mortal boy must dig deep if he is to overcome his demons and save his friends. However, the search for the Fenian King is anything but easy. Known by the name of Fionn mac Cumhall, his exploits as leader of legendary war-band, the Fianna, are still told with awe today. So just where do you start your search for Ireland’s greatest hero? Well, first you google it, of course. Then you ask the cat… Book Two of The Tir na Nog Trilogy continues this epic fantasy adventure which takes us back in time to the shadowy past of Ireland’s long lost legend, where fairy kings and Gods walk amongst mortals, and where feats of magic, swordsmanship and courage were customary.
- Book Title: The Tir Na Nog Trilogy (Book 1 and 2)
- Author: Ali Isaac
- Genre: YA epic fantasy
- Length: Book 1—392 pgs, Book 2—475 pgs
- Release Dates: Isaac Publishing; Book 1—December 4, 2013, Book 2—July 8, 2014)
Great write up. I shared it on Twitter.
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Thanks! They were certainly fun reads for me.
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Ali Isaac said:
Gosh… did I really write those books? You made them sound so good I want to go straight out and buy them! 😁
Seriously, thank you for such a great review! I’m grinning like a Cheshire Cat here…
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Obviously, I loved the books. Of course, with my own (less than scholarly) interest in Irish mythology, they were a very fun read. But I’m particularly impressed with your achievement in making Conor a three-dimensional, complicated, very teenaged character. My only request that that I get to read book 3 soon.
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Ali Isaac said:
I’d best crack on with it then! Its not often I get writers block lol! But cant seem to shift it…
That’s certainly interesting! Hi fantasy with a hero in a wheelchair that communicates telepathically.
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I couldn’t have even thought it up, let alone had the nerve to write it. But Ali makes it work.
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Rosie Amber said:
What an amazing sounding hero, and I do love Irish mythology, such an interesting book review, Thanks Barb.
Love the sound of these…more for my TBR list!
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