A standalone novel? Oh how wonderful this is! Historical fiction? Even better? Also with mythology? What an interesting concept.
Customary warning: This is a reminder that these are my personal opinions. My thoughts and feelings are not your thoughts and feelings. I may not always be the target audience for a book; sometimes I am. If I do not like a book, that doesn’t mean you’ll dislike it. If I love a book or simply like a book, you may hate it. Take everything I say with this knowledge. If it sounds interesting to you despite what I’ve said, then go ahead and read it. You’ll only know you like something if you read it yourself.
That being said… Spoilers ahead.
Beyond A Darkened Shore by Jessica Leake
Synopsis From The Book
The ancient land of Éirinn is mired in war. Ciara, princess of Mide, has never known a time when Éirinn’s kingdoms were not battling for power, or Northmen were not plundering their shores.
The people of Mide have always been safe because of Ciara’s unearthly ability to control her enemies’ minds and actions. But lately a mysterious crow has been appearing to Ciara, whispering warnings of an even darker threat. Although her clansmen dismiss her visions as pagan nonsense, Ciara fears this coming evil will destroy not just Éirinn but the entire world.
Then the crow leads Ciara to Leif, a young Northman leader. Leif should be Ciara’s enemy, but when Ciara discovers that he, too, shares her prophetic visions, she knows he’s something more. Leif is mounting an impressive army, and with Ciara’s strength in battle, the two might have a chance to save their world.
With evil rising around them, they’ll do what it takes to defend the land they love…even if it means making the greatest sacrifice of all.
Initial Thoughts Before Reading:
If anything, I just hope I can get into this book. Something about reading the synopsis doesn’t have me completely captivated. I’m reading this book on vacation and I do worry that i will not like it.
Initial Thoughts After Reading:
Oh, how I hope that this is a standalone novel. It read as a standalone novel. The ending was interesting, and there was not much more that the book can do from this point. I did like the novel and was pleasantly surprised that it was a Historical Fiction – Fantasy. If it had been a simple fantasy, I’m not sure what I would have done.
In some ways I wish this book had been split in two, giving more time to Ciara’s time in Leif’s family and that plot. I felt as if the reveal of Leif’s father and her time with them was all too short for her come to terms with all that it meant and to move towards the final battle. Additionally, I feel as if more time for the Valhalla plot and Leif’s sacrifice for his power would have been all more heartbreaking.
Ciara is the oldest daughter of the King of Mide, a warrior shunned as a demon by all those around her due to the abilities she possesses. Ciara can control the minds and bodies of anyone whom she wants to latch herself to. When the Northmen come to attack her castle while her father is away, Ciara ends up winning the battle and takes their leader hostage when a strange voice speaks to her. Unsure of who the voice is, she asks the man only for her to discover that it is one of the old gods, ones that her people have discarded for Christianity.
She is told of the coming of a great threat of giants and begs her father to understand. He does not and in her fury she controls him, resulting in her exile. With the Northman she discovers they were sent together because he was chosen along with her to stop the giants. The two travel across the lands towards Dubhlinn, to meet with his people. He is the young leader Leif Olafsson, and he has vowed to be her ally. After getting caught up in the paths of strange celtic myths they make their way to Leif’s people and they meet the King Sigtrygg. It is here that they interact with the enemy and are forced to fight.
Almost losing the fight, Ciara and Leif are saved by her abilities. Ciara speaks with the Goddess of War again and is given the offer of a blood sacrifice to raise the dead, which she refuses. Upon returning to her world she comes back to her home to find her father and his men slaughtered by the King of Dubhlinn. The blood sacrifice was already given. Ciara discovers that her true mother is a goddess, and that is why she has her powers. Rising the dead, she begins her plight to end this war.
Ciara fights and kills the King of Dublin, claiming his kingdom for her own and his men. She and Leif rejoin Leif’s men, and sail across the sea to his home to get more allies. It is here that she finds that Leif’s father was the one to murder her older sister when they were younger, and is stricken for she loves Leif. Into battle they go, without her being able to truly look at him. They win the battle, and the Valkyrie come for Leif to get their payment for giving him his war abilities. He is taken to Valhalla, and in her rage Ciara destroys the Valkyrie, forcing Odin to show. Odin gives her an offer and she accepts. Into Valhalla Ciara goes, to search for Leif. When she finds him, he agrees to return to the mortal world for her.
They return, win back her kingdom and Ciara becomes Queen with Leif her soon to be King.
What I Liked:
Mixing of Norse and Celtic myth; This was the best part of the book, from the spinning legends of Faerie of Celtic myth to the Norse gods. I really liked how they were incorporated throughout the course of this book, both in fear and in anticipation. They were godly with their own plans and thoughts, much as I would hope from gods in stories.
Ciara; I liked her and her strange power. Her decisions made sense to me and when necessary she did kill. Her mental struggle to love someone so different and against everything she was raised to believe was interesting. I would have liked to get more on her dynamic of being a demon, or seen as one, but we got little of it. It would have been nice to see this dynamic against the Christians a bit more for contrast in how her abilities are perceived by the Pagans.
Leif; The damsel of the story who is strong in his own right, but is often times, saved by our main character. The two work hand in hand and go against each other head to head but he is the one who has to end up being saved and that’s brilliant. I liked his over confidence, and general personality a lot.
Celtic vs. North; This time period is always fun to explore and learn more about. Christianity vs. Christianity did a number to the stories of the past especially to the older Irish pagan stories. There is much of history trying to erase them all, that now that we are trying to rediscover them it is hard. I do like reading historical fantasies of this time. I also like the feeling of knowing how old it is, in our past but still feeling like a fantasy world.
Quickness of the plot; It was a single book and the events went on with wonderful detail but did not drag on for too long.
Battle sequences and descriptions; I loved this aspect as well. For all the times that they go into battle, with people or otherwise, these battles are thoroughly described and I enjoyed that.
Ciara and Leif’s relationship; It was fast but also not fast. It took place over weeks if not months, and through many life or death situations. I did like how this progressed in general.
What I Would Have Liked or Changed:
Pantonmics; Olafsson, there is something about how all the other names in this series were close to correct if not correct, but when it came to the pantonomics of the Northman, specifically Leif, it was incorrect. It helped with the surprise of Leif’s family, but it was an issue for me.
Condensation; I made a note in my thoughts, but I feel that this book would have done well to be two books. Both for the plot elaboration, but also to expand on the mythos a bit more. I liked it as a single novel and never think it should be three, but as two it could have expanded on a few things that would have given some more weight to the story.
Time Taken To Read
“Yours isn’t the gift of the Fae. They would never give up a child with your abilities to mere mortals.” – Leif, pg 119