I chose this book for Genre Challenge Week because I’m not a big reader of mythology, and I’ve haven’t read a book on Irish mythology since college, let alone one that included a gay romance. Couple things I might point out: In Irish mythology Fairies exist, though they are diabolical and petty. They are the Danaan, children of Danu, and live in a realm slightly apart from humans. On feast days of the Pagan calendar, particularly Beltane and Samhain (Halloween), the veil between realms is thin and humans can slip into that of the Danaan. Humans and Fairy mate, though humans don’t usually survive the experience unchanged.
Se is a demigod, born of a mortal woman and Lugh Lamfada, sun god of the Danaan, from back in the earliest times of Irish history. His uncle is Connor, king of Ulster. Se is brought to the boys tribe for training, which scares everyone because Se has a habit of setting himself, and others, on fire when he’s upset. Well, everyone but Laeg is terrified. Laeg is three years older, but none the wiser. Laeg is charged with making Se feel at home, and he does, captivated by his shy yet strong friend. Years pass, and Laeg serves as charioteer to Se; he’s the only man who can withstand the immense heat Se’s flaming body throws off in battle.
It is not until Se is sent for further training with the warrior women that Laeg learns his love for Se is not unrequited. Laeg has no interest in women, and Laeg’s father is abusive in his “correction” of this major character flaw. Laeg and Se are to be separated for a year and a day—and their reunion is incendiary. Literally. Se, also known as CuChulainn, has a passionate love for Laeg, and isn’t afraid to express himself physically any longer. It brings further trouble, and an agreement of sorts between Se and his father Lugh—that Se and Laeg will not be separated in their lives, but will stay together and die the same day.
The rest of the book is a series of heroic feats performed by Se and Laeg. There’s every ounce of the myth squeezed onto the page, with an interesting spin that Se and Laeg arrange their own handfasting, and a poly relationship that isn’t quite what it seems. I really enjoyed the many romps these two get up to—and the deeply spiritual experience of living in a time when what we consider to be Pagan myth was religion. This is a sweetly told hero’s tale, though we see nothing more than kissing on the page. The acceptance of a same-sex partnership is revolutionary in the time and the place, and only two battle-tested warriors could pull it off, I think. It’s interesting how warriors had no issues with using each other’s bodies while on campaign, but shied away when women were in plenty. It’s the first opening of Laeg’s eyes, in truth, that his desire for Se isn’t as unnatural as his father has made it seem. Laeg tells the bulk of the story, and his love for Se is unquestioned. Their years together are intense, with so many moments of joy, pain and struggle. I really was captivated by the battles, and the feats, and the world. Ulster is a seat of contention, and there are challenges that arise and are tamped down by the strength of both Laeg and Se. I honestly felt transported to the scene.
As I’m Irish-American, I’ve long had an interest in the mythology of Ireland—and wish I’d learned more about it when I took Celtic Myth an ice age ago in college. This story was filtered through the author’s belief that Se (CuChulainn) and Laeg had an amorous relationship that was erased by history and Christian morality. As an avowed Pagan, the author cites numerous texts in scholarly support of her story. I give a shrug to the argument; I’m not reading the book for its veracity. The mythology was interesting as presented, and the characters were compelling. I did struggle at times with the many names in the story. Each person is presented with several names, and—especially in the beginning—I struggled with the conventions of changing people’s names as a sign of respect, or derision. The plot is also complicated by the complex interactions between characters and warrior tribes. There is a certain protocol in this world that took a bit to learn, and there was some magick/curses I didn’t immediately understand—but learned more about when I continued reading. That said, I enjoyed the movement between realms, and the Druids and the magick, and the deep love. There’s a tragic end here, so beware. Nonetheless, I really liked the book, and the ideas behind it. It’s more myth and history than romance, but no one can deny that the love between Se and Laeg is deep and life-long, as written.
This review is part of our September Reading Challenge Month for Genre Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win a fabulous prize from Less Than Three Press. Three lucky winners will each receive a selection of print books. Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing grand prize sponsored by Dreamspinner Press (a loaded Kindle fire filled with DSP books!). You can get more information on our Challenge Month here, and more details on Genre Week here. And be sure to check out our prize post for more about the awesome prizes!