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Fionn mac Cumhaill #1

Fionn: Defence of Ráth Bládhma

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Ireland: 192 A.D. A time of strife and treachery. Political ambition and inter-tribal conflict has set the country on edge, testing the strength of long-established alliances.

Following their victory over Clann Baoiscne at the battle of Cnucha, Clann Morna are hungry for power. Meanwhile, a mysterious war party roams the ‘Great Wild’ and a ruthless magician is intent on murder.

In the secluded valley of Glenn Ceo, disgraced druid Bodhmall and her lover Liath Luachra have successfully avoided the bloodshed for many years. Now, the arrival of a pregnant refugee threatens the peace they have created together.

Based on the ancient Fenian Cycle texts, the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series recounts the fascinating and pulse-pounding tale of the birth and adventures of Ireland’s greatest hero, Fionn mac Cumhaill.

276 pages, Paperback

First published January 26, 2014

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About the author

Brian O'Sullivan

28 books90 followers
Brian O'Sullivan was born in county Cork, Ireland. On completing a degree at University College Cork, he went on to travel extensively. He is now based in New Zealand with his family but returns to Ireland on a regular basis.

Brian writes fiction that incorporates strong elements of Irish culture, language, history and mythology. These include literary short stories (The Irish Muse collection), mystery thrillers (The Beara Trilogy) and contemporary versions of the Fionn mac Cumhaill/ Fenian legends (The Fionn mac Cumhaill Series and the Irish Woman Warrior Series). Brian also edits and writes non-fiction through the 'Celtic Mythology Collection' series published by Irish Imbas Books,

Although he writes predominantly for an Irish audience, Brian's unique style and humour has meant that his books have become firm favorites of readers all around the world.

The fourth book in the the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series (Fionn: Stranger at Mullán Bán) was released in December 2022. Release of the fifth book is planned for December 2023.

A prequel for the Irish Woman Warrior Series (Liath Luachra: The Great Wild) was released on 2 June 2023)

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 51 reviews
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.8k followers
March 10, 2017
Final review, first posted on Fantasy Literature:

In 192 A.D., Muirne Muncháem, a young and very pregnant woman, travels alone through the wilds of ancient Ireland, seeking a sanctuary for herself and her unborn child at Ráth Bládhma. Three years before, a young druidess, Bodhmhall, had left her clan with six other people, including her lover, the woman warrior Liath Luachra. Since then they’ve been living in a hidden, secluded valley, creating a pleasant, if very small, community. Their peace is shattered when Muirne, Bodhmhall’s sister-in-law, arrives, asking for refuge and their protection.

Bodhmhall can see that Muirne’s unborn child has an aura that shines brighter than any she has ever seen. Because of that, and because it is her dead brother Cumhal’s child, she agrees to offer Muirne sanctuary. But the group soon finds that two separate bands of twenty to thirty warriors, one including a mutilated druid with terrifying mind powers, are seeking Muirne and her child, and will stop at nothing to get them. It is only a matter of time before they find the way to Ráth Bládhma.

Defence of Ráth Bládhma is a hard-hitting tale of life in an ancient time, when life was harsh and uncertain. It is the first book in Brian O’Sullivan’s FIONN MAC CUMHAILL series, based on the legend of the mythical Irish warrior hero Fionn mac Cumhaill. Defence of Ráth Bládhma tells the very first part of Fionn mac Cumhaill’s story, the time before and immediately after his birth. O’Sullivan has added some imaginative twists to the original legend, including the relationship between his aunt Bodhmhall and Liath Luachra, and has fleshed out these and others who were part of Fionn’s early life, creating complex and lifelike characters.

The story is fairly true to real life in primitive times, when death, hostile clans, and shortages of food were constant threats. O’Sullivan has vividly recreated the tough living conditions of a small community, with detailed descriptions of their way of life. The fantasy element is seen only in the druidic powers possessed by Bodhmhall and the enemy druid, one of the Tainted Ones who is no longer fully human, and has the power to affect the minds and thoughts of others. The grim atmosphere is lightened somewhat by the timely arrival of Bodhmhall’s former husband, Fiacail mac Codhna, at Ráth Bládhma. He and his two men provide some much-needed assistance with the defense of this small, walled community, along with a hefty dose of bawdy humor.

Defence of Ráth Bládhma is well worth reading for fans of fantasies set in ancient or less civilized communities. It’s often brutal, and frequently crude in its humor, but that fits the time period in which this novel is set. It’s a strong entry in the final ten of the SPFBO (Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off) contest.
Profile Image for Laura Hughes.
Author 5 books255 followers
June 4, 2017
Second century Ireland is cold, dirty, brutal and ugly, and its inhabitants’ moment-to-moment fight for survival even more so. Here, O'Sullivan blends legend and realism to create a tense, tightly-contained narrative featuring just two PoV characters. Bodhmhall is the spiritual leader of the community at Ráth Bládhma; as such she faces constant doubt and a ceaseless barrage of difficult decisions. Liath Luachra is a skilled warrior, but she’s haunted by dark memories and is far from invincible.

Liath Luachra’s chapters were by far my favourites. Tough, tenacious and unflinchingly truthful, Liath Luachra is an admirably strong female protagonist. Her own inner conflict – between her past and present self, her loyalty to Bodhmhall and her own sense of right and wrong – is as engaging as her woodland exploits, and her fighting scenes are stark and exhausting.

The actual scale of Ráth Bládhma’s story might be modest, but this only serves to magnify the importance of events and the significance of each life lost. Even the battle-hardened Liath Luachra thinks twice before taking on an opponent, even one who is unprepared. In fact, this sense of realism is one of the things I enjoyed most about both POVs. Both protagonists have their faults, and each have their weaknesses.

Defence of Ráth Bládhma is not dense or complicated, but nor does it compromise to pander to more casual readers. Rest assured, however: readers who are frustrated by the frequent inclusion of Gaelic words might be interested to know that there's a very handy pronunciation guide on the author's website. ;)
Profile Image for Julia Sarene.
1,326 reviews144 followers
March 2, 2017
This one took me long, for a book as short as this.
I have a bit mixed feelings about it - I loved the setting and the background information about living in old Ireland! (Though I will never understand why "strange words", or in this case Gaelic words, are printed in italics in books... For me that always alienates the words, instead of learning them, and then being just a natural part of the world.) Reading about how people spent their lives way back was one of the major hooks for me.

This book has mostly unfamiliar Gaelic names for places, people and things, so you will have to be willing to learn a few of those!

But it also had some parts that really dragged on a bit - and I confess I skipped some pages two times, with long battle/fight scenes. Once it was a langer scaled one, and one a one on one fight - those two felt just dragged out and too long to keep me interested, so I was looking for actual plot to progress.

All in all the second half felt stronger than the first half to me - and once I crossed the middle my reading speed picked up. Even though both scenes I skipped where late in the book, the overall plot was more interesting and kept me engaged.

I liked the characters, though Fiacail had a bit much sexual innuendo in his jokes for my personal taste. But I absolutely adore Bodhmhall and especially Liath. I think Liath was the second best thing about the book, besides the old Irish culture.

Overall it was an entertaining read, and I might continue reading the rest of the series!
Profile Image for Lynn K : Grimmedian.
137 reviews22 followers
April 5, 2018
Stunning action filled historical fantasy based deeply in Celtic myth.

From the first chapter, this tale will captivate readers. These ancient times in Ireland were brutal and O’Sullivan pulls no punches showing us of the savagery of the land and the harshness of the life of these people. Alongside this he manages to illuminate the beauty of the Great Wild, and the deep bonds of family, loyalty, and friendship. The Defence of Rath Bladhma is a tale of survival of simple farmers against savage foreign forces, and dark terrifying droi. It skims the tales that lurk behind his well defined characters and I for one, am very eager to continue reading Brian O’Sullivan’s work.

It is full to the brim with the Gaelic and the authors web site offers audible pronunciations of persons and place names. I find these both intriguing and beautiful, and while readers may falter at first with them, he’s given us a well placed short descriptions within the tale, that allows the story to continue without changing any references. Most ordinary Gaelic terms are so well placed in context that it is easy to catch their meaning without explanation.

The strong female lead roles, the diversity of their relationship, and the mix of personalities is tremendously entertaining. The intricacies of combat, weaponry, and its gory reality are delved into quite deeply and the scenes are riveting. The prose flows so well and the dialogue is perfection. It will set your pulse to pounding and you may find you just cannot put this book down. Highly recommended read for historical fantasy, with Grimdark realism, and those who enjoy character driven tales well told. Very well told indeed.
Profile Image for Kristen.
587 reviews111 followers
July 12, 2017
(There's a bigger, prettier version of this review here, on my blog.)

Firstly, I'm going to straight-up apologize in advance for when I almost definitely spell any Irish words or names wrong here. I'm making sure I extra double check, but since I manage to fuck up the English language pretty fantastically on any given day, I can only imagine what I'll do to an entirely different one.

Irish is one of those languages that is really difficult to grasp for native English speakers who have had no real interaction with it in our lives. This is, I assume, mainly because it is often phonetically very, very different than English, but still uses the same alphabet. So, of course we instinctively want to sound it out. That does not work with Irish without knowing some rules. I bet we come up with some creative guesses though. So, I'm super thankful for the quick pronunciation guide in the back, but I wish that it was easier to find in the ebook, because it is not really marked well and doesn't come up in the menu (or didn't for me.) Thankfully, the author's website is chock full of actual spoken pronunciations (and thank god I live in the age of smartphones so I could listen to these stealthily at work).

But, I guarantee you that I still pronounced things in my head so, so wrong as I went. We'll just pretend that I have total mental mastery over the pronunciation of this language for the next few minutes or so, okay? Okay.

Parts of this story read a bit like a language lesson, and that is not a criticism (rather the opposite, actually). It's a really interesting way to give a real sort of realism in the story. Different words that are connected to the story or event are used, non-intrusively defined, and then used more throughout the story for context. A really neat idea that immersed me right into this world, and taught me some new vocabulary at the same time. Some new words are used and not defined, though their use within the context of what is happening makes it pretty apparent what they mean.

As I said, this story is based around the Boyhood Deeds of Fionn part of the Fenian Cycle. You may know that I am a huge mythology nerd, but I am admittedly not as familiar with the Fenian Cycle as I am with the Ulster Cycle (which follows, among others, another Irish mythology hero- Cúchulainn. There is a long story about what interested me in Cúchulainn's myth, and that story, like so many others in my life, starts with a video game, lol). I knew the basics though. Fionn is born, sent to his aunt druidess (or bandraoi - see, I paid attention!) and her warrior woman companion to be raised due to danger of the guy who killed his father coming for him too, grows up, has tons of adventures. That's sort of the gist of it.

This book starts with the pregnant Muirne Muncháem fighting her way through the forests and valleys of second century Ireland to get to Ráth Bládhma, where Bodhmhall the druidess, and her lover Liath Luachra the warrior woman live. I love that this story leaves no doubts about the relationship between Liath Luachra and Bodhmhall. The word 'companion' is used in mythology a lot, with various levels of 'by companion, I actually mean lover' (I'm looking at you, The Iliad). This story, while it does use the word companion sometimes, absolutely depicts them as lovers and rolls with it. I enjoyed that. It's a small thing, but it made me smile nonetheless.

I also enjoyed being immersed in this story as a fantasy novel. I'm not sure I can explain what I mean by that, but I'll try. I like it when my favorite myths are brought to life as stories or in media that aren't quite as... classic as the myths they are based on are. Mainly books and video games. I'm a fan of those sorts of things. So, that feeling of knowing a story, knowing pretty much how it goes, or knowing how it ends, but nonetheless getting a real good telling of that particular story, whether it's a modern retelling, or just a retelling that's told in a modern way, with some individual interpretation from the author/developer/etc, is an adventure for me. This one was certainly an adventure, and it was quite a good adventure, and the characters were written in a way that I just loved. The world came alive in my head, and I loved how real the characters were with each other. They cursed, they spit, and they openly talked about fucking and masturbation. Little shit like that is what made it 'modern' for me, despite taking place in the second century. You don't see that sort of stuff in classic fantasy.

It's not overly long, and it doesn't drag at all. It's very well written and very hard to put down. Liath Luachra is legitimately hilarious, snarky, and badass AF, just as she should be. She's not a superhero though. She's realistic enough, and that just made the whole thing more awesome.
Profile Image for Travis Peck.
Author 2 books9 followers
September 19, 2017
Great book with fantastic characters and just the right amount of history thrown in. I had difficulty with the names (I made the egregious error of not looking up how to pronounce them until about halfway through) and now Bodhmhall will forever be known as "Bottomhall" (Sorry!).

There is plenty of action in this one and some fantastical elements that fit in perfectly with setting without being overly powerful.

Anyway, I'd recommend this book to anyone whether or not you have an interest in Irish history or myth. Also Liath Luachra is a complete badass(Loved her!)
I will be getting the rest of the books in this series and so should you!

That is all. Carry on.
Profile Image for Braon Beag.
16 reviews
May 29, 2014
I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I started reading this book. I've always been a fan of the Fianna stories but most of the books on this subject I've read have been quite academic. From the first few pages, however, it was obvious that Fionn: Defence of Rath Bladhma was a much more gritty and realistic version than any I've read before.

There's lots of action, chases through the forests, a siege and smatterings of fantasy (although the author has wisely kept these at a minimum). It's also nicely balanced with authentic characters and relationships that seem much more realistic than many others I've read, particularly in the adventure genre. I really enjoyed the slow build up of tension to the final battle scene but, without doubt, for me the single most enjoyable thing about this book was the fascinating character Liath Luachra. Although she had never previously been more than a footnote in the Fenian Cycle stories, in this version she comes across as a remarkable cross between Lisbeth Salander and Artemisia. Brilliant!

My single gripe about this book was that, despite the title, Fionn hardly appears in in (except as a baby) but this was hardly serious fault given that this is, after all, a series and I assume needs to set the scene for the later events of the hero's life.
Profile Image for Anne O'Connor.
14 reviews
March 10, 2014
I read this book after reading an earlier book by the same author and although this adventure (set in second-century Ireland) is very different, its still a great read.

The story is a modern take on the ancient Irish tale "The Boyhood Adventures of Fionn", but it focuses very much on the initial stages of that particular tale. Fionn, himself, only appears as a newborn baby but his absence is more than made up for by the presence of two very strong female characters (the woman warrior Liath Luachra and the druidess Bodhmhall) and the hilariously complex warrior, Fiacail mac Codhna.

The pace is set early on when Fionn's pregnant Muirne Muncháem is travelling to the Rath Bladhma of the title and has to defend herself against a wolf attack. After that the action and the tension never really stops as that settlement uses every trick at its disposal to defend itself against a scary cannibal horde and a kind of mind-controlling druid, both of whom are trying to get their hands on the baby.

I really loved the complex character of Liath Luachra and the relationship she has with Bodhmhall. This is touching and real but, at the same time, restrained and doesn't detract from the action and the various twists and turns. If you're looking for a book full of action but with realistic characters, this is highly recommended.
Profile Image for Denise.
6,603 reviews109 followers
June 1, 2022
Now here's a setting I know absolutely nothing about... But O'Sullivan certainly brings his vision of 2nd century Ireland so vividly alive on the page that it's easy to immerse oneself in nonetheless. Unfamiliar though this world might be to me, the story soon sucked me in. I'll definitely have to look up the sequel at some point.
7 reviews
March 11, 2017
Fionn Mac Cumhaill Series.

I have just finished 'Fionnn: Defence of Ráth Bládhma, it's a fantastic book set in Ireland in 998 AD. It's the most realistic book I've read about early Ireland. I would highly recommend this book. Keep them coming Brian O'Sullivan, I'm going to start book 2 now.
Profile Image for Nat Murphy.
17 reviews1 follower
January 30, 2015
I'll repeat that.
I picked this indie author book up just by chance and wasn't really expecting much but it actually distracted me from reading anther book I was devouring at the time (Joe Abecrombie's Red Country - also great!). I ended up finishing this book first.

Back in Ireland in 192 AD (not sure if the date is relevant), a tiny and very isolated settlement reluctantly offers sanctuary to an unexpected and very heavily pregnant refugee. As a result of this kindness, they end up threatened by a mysterious war party and a terrifying druid.

The world building in this novel is simply exceptional The settlement is located in the middle of the Great Wild - the occupants' name for the untamed and dangerous forest environment in which they live - and the day to day dangers they have to live with are covered very well.
The Gaelic language is also sprinkled sparingly throughout and works well in terms of authenticity and sense of place.

The characters are also terrifically engaging. Bodhmhall, the young druid/leader of the community is inexperienced but competent and intellectual at a time when no-one really appreciates the latter. Her partner Liath Luachra is an emotionally damaged woman warrior with a bloody history that she's doing her best to escape from. The love triangle is completed by Bodhmhall's ex-husband - the handsome and eccentric Fiacial mac Codhna.

All in all, this is a captivating, exciting and well-told tale that I'll certainly be re-reading.

Profile Image for Louise Mulligan.
26 reviews
April 20, 2014
I enjoyed reading this book, and are looking forward to the next in the series. The book was tense reading, I couldn't put it down in places. The writing was animated if not somewhat brutal at times, I certainly felt involved in the story. The characters were fascinating and once again the writers exceptional ability to describe landscapes provided me with plenty of great scenery.
Profile Image for Heather Henkel.
1,404 reviews20 followers
January 29, 2017
Great story

This is an incredible story. It took a bit to get used to the speech patterns and language but it was well worth it!
Profile Image for Ria Bridges.
589 reviews6 followers
December 1, 2019
I’ve read a couple of different stories now about this legendary hero, whose name goes through a different spelling just about every time (Fionn mac Cumhaill, Finn MacCool, it’s all good…) Every story puts their own twist on the tale, whether going for accurate retelling or modern interpretation, and honestly, this is something that can make a story straddle that fine line between fresh and stale. You can only hear the same story told so many times, however many little differences there might be, before you grow tired of the story. However, it’s the little differences, or sometimes big ones, that can make a retelling worth listening to, to see how it differs from old narratives and to see what it brings to the table.

Fionn tells the beginning of the story, with the birth of the great Irish hero, and the events that surrounded that birth. Mostly the surrounding events, really; aside from being born, the son of Cumhail doesn’t really do anything here. We start off seeing his mother, still pregnant, fleeing from her enemies, making her way to Rath Bladhma, where her ex-husband’s sister lives. Bodhmhall, a druid capable of premonition and sensing the life energies of things, reluctantly takes her in, giving her shelter and limited peace to birth her baby, whose life blazes brightly; Bodhmhall foresees that this baby will be great, but aside from that we don’t really get any indication of destiny or what have you. Yes, a war party and a Tainted One are hunting down Muirne Munchaem and her baby, but there’s only speculation as to why, and the reasons could be political as much as they could be supernatural.

Fionn is one of those historical fantasies where the fantasy aspect rarely comes into play. Bodhmhall’s powers and the presence of the Tainted One are pretty much the limit of fantasy elements, and those are incorporated in such small ways that you could remove them entirely and the story wouldn’t really change. If the reader is unfamiliar with any of the stories of Ireland’s great hero, they might be left wondering what this is really all about. A woman flees her old home for her own reasons, seeks refuge elsewhere, and then a wandering war party attacks the settlement where she took refuge. Fionn could be summed up that way, and really, that does give you the gist of what happens. It feels a bit like the prequel to a much greater story than a part of that story in itself, the sort of thing you really only appreciate when you already know what comes next. Those unfamiliar with the legend might find Fionn a bit hard-going.

Despite that, the book does have a very obvious strength early on: the vivid detail. O’Sullivan heaps great amounts of detail on the reader, just this side of ponderous, but it leaves you feeling like you really know the land and its people when you finish the last page. You can practically smell the livestock of the settlement, feel the chill in the air, expect to hear certain voices from the distance. Even if you’re not captivated by the story itself, you’re taken in by the setting and the way it comes alive.

Plenty of Gaelic names and terms might confound readers, too, but honestly, I’m not holding this against the book or its author. We don’t read fantasy novels to be confronted by the distressingly familiar — we read them, in part, to have our minds stretched a little bit. The words may be a mouthful, but that doesn’t take away from the story. (And happily, when I checked the pronunciation guide on O’Sullivan’s website, I discovered my guesses were often pretty close to how things were intended to sound anyway.)

Fionn: Defence of Rath Bladhma is a relatively short book that takes place over a short span of time, but never the less feels like it carries some weight. The characters are interesting and have decent variation, the tension and action work well to really set the whole scene, and in terms of writing style, O’Sullivan clearly has skill. I definitely wouldn’t mind checking out more of his writing, at any rate. So while this book may not appeal to everyone, especially those who haven’t encountered much in the way of Irish mythology before, it still is a good book, and it’s worth giving a try.

(Book received for review as part of the SPFBO.)
Profile Image for Timothy Brannan.
23 reviews3 followers
March 16, 2017
"'I am An Cailleach Dhubh,' Bodhmhall replied cynically 'No secret is unknown to me.'"
- Bodhmhall, Bandroai of Ráth Bládhma

Fionn: Defence of Ráth Bládhma: The Fionn mac Cumhaill Series: Book One by Brian O'Sullivan

In this Part 1 of the story of Fionn mac Cumhaill, also known as Finn MacCool, the titular character barely makes an appearance. He is there, yes, and all the events of the story are centered around him and his mother, but he is not the hero of this tale.
The heroes are the Bandroai (or Ban Drui or Druid) Bodhmhall and her protector and lover Liath Luachra. When pregnant Muirne Muncháem shows up at Ráth Bládhma, Bodhmhall is duty bound to give her shelter even though she knows that this woman is being pursued by an army who want her and her unborn son dead. There is also something else in the wood, something darker and evil.
Soon the siege of Ráth Bládhma is on and others are seeking protection and it is all one outcast druid and her warrior woman anamchara can do to protect Muirne and her son.

Since this is a part one there are a lot of characters to get introduced and the whole issue of the oncoming siege and the dark power in the woods.

Ultimately this book is a tale of survival. I hesitate to call it a book about war, there is war yes, but it is more about the survival of the clan and what others will do to survive.

What attracted me to this story was course it was about Fionn mac Cumhaill as well as well as Liath and Bodhmal. I have read many of the tales about Fionn and most of the modern novelizations. Fionn was also a central character in my own Buffy the Vampire Slayer games. So imagine my surprise and pleasure when I discovered this tale was really more about Liath and Bodhmal!

Very little has been said about Fionn's fosterers in the tales and little more has been mentioned in the novels. For this book to be all bout Liath and Bodhmal was more than I could have asked more.
While reading I found myself connecting to things O'Sulivan had written; we obviously have drawn from the same sources. So I found his work to be familiar and yet completely new. When I had read a quarter of the book I had to stop myself from saying "Liath wouldn't do that" or "That's not what Bodhmal would say." At about half way I was so completely enjoying the book that I forgot all that. Before I finished I had already bought every book Brian O'Sullivan had written. There are more parts to this story as well as one with Liath and her time with the warrior band Na Cineáltaí or "The Kindly Ones".

The book is largely self-contained. That is you can read it and not be left on a cliff hanger if you know the tales of Fionn. I am planning to queue up the next books in the series right away to be honest. The tale is timeless and one that can be retold many ways.

Liath & Bodhmal
I feel I should address this subject, especially if you have ever read my blog. Many know my long time love affair with Liath and Bodhmal. They have appeared in many of my games and have worked their way into the histories of not only the witches I write about, but my characters too. I have spent a long time with these two. I have very definite opinions on who these characters are and what they should be doing in any given situation. While my interpretations are different than O'Sullivan's we both agreed on some very important key points. Liath is a peerless warrior. Bodhmal was a druid with a past and not a great past at that. We also agreed on a very key point, that Liath and Bodhmal were lovers. It's not something I had seen in other tales before. Morgan Llywelyn hinted at it, or maybe I read into it, but Brian O'Sullivan also saw that and his tale is worthy of these two. Sure I have to get over the first meeting in my mind of Liath and Bodhmal (Liath sparing with her two brothers with a staff and keeping them both on the defense) but this is a really great book.
I can't wait to read more.
Profile Image for Peter Buckmaster.
Author 5 books28 followers
March 7, 2021
I lost myself in this book. And I mean that in a good way - I really lost track of the real world and was there in the middle of the wilderness of Iron Age Ireland. This is the third of Brian O'Sullivan's books I have read, and "immersive" is certainly one word I would use to describe them. I felt the cold, could smell the broth, see the mist and hear the silence (you'll understand when you get to that scene). You're right there with the characters and that makes their peril, their struggles and their triumphs touch you more deeply.
I feel Brian O'Sullivan brings you fully into the myths and legends his tales are based upon. There are no info-dumps to explain the world; it's more like you live it along with some memorable characters. The first two books I read of this author were Liath Luachra: The Grey One and Liath Luachra: The Swallowing. The character of LL really grabbed me. She's someone you can cheer for even as you fear for what she might do; she is as sympathetic as she is frightening; and she makes your heart race with some pulsating scenes of combat, as much she makes your heart heavy with words unspoken or the loss she suffers. And Bodhmhall is the anchor to LL's ship in the storm. They need each other and their relationship is as tough as it is tender.
Something that runs through the entire story, underlying everything else the characters experience, is the basic struggle to survive in a harsh environment. This is something that elevates the tension in the story, knowing that a loved one may survive this day but tomorrow could bring sorrow, simply because it's another day in an unforgiving world. The cruelty is often born from human hearts, but it's nature that is as much an enemy as a provider.
Book two arrived yesterday and I dived back in immediately. Quite a horrifying opening!
The Liath Luachra books precede the Fionn mac Cumhaill series so I plan to re-read LL1 & LL2. And of course there is a third Liath Luachra book! I hope Brian O'Sullivan keeps them coming. This is mythology told by a skilled story-teller who has a keen interest in bringing these tales to more and more people. 2nd century Ireland has never felt so real.
Profile Image for Francis Blair.
Author 13 books14 followers
April 29, 2022
I was pleasantly surprised by what this book had to offer. From its description, I assumed I would be getting a rather dry historical fantasy, one driven by political machinations and maybe a little ham-fisted combat to spruce things up. A low-fantasy story with a historical bent, in other words.

Instead, what I read was a tight-paced drama of warriors and mystics, of sweat-and-blood filled melee set upon a wild frontier, with just the barest veneer of historical smattering to it. Between the druidic magic and the gritty realism of the characters, a reader could be forgiven for thinking this was a high fantasy novel of the first order.

The setting is 2nd century Ireland, but nowhere in the story is the date or the location explicitly stated. This is because the setting of the story and the characters that make it up are confined by the limited worldview they hold, one that does not stretch beyond the small territory they live in. There is little beyond the titular settlement beyond vast wilds filled with all manner of dangers: of fauna, of flora, of men.

Fionn's story remains tight from start to finish. While there were some political machinations (as are near impossible to avoid in one form or another) they are handled smoothly with the coursing action that carried this tale from one tense scene to the next. The ultimate siege that forms this story's core has an absolutely wonderful buildup, and is choreographed to highlight just how gritty and tense such a battle would be.

The characters also truly make this tale. Bodhmhall, the former druidess, has a history that is both complex and perfectly woven throughout the book, revealing itself at just the right times. So too with her companion Liath Luachra, whose own bloody history is both her curse and her salvation. Even the minor characters feel fully formed and realistically portrayed, playing their various goals and plans perfectly. For such a small, tightly knit world, there is a remarkable depth to the people that live in it.

Honestly, this book was a delight to read, all the more so for the surprise of it. I highly recommend.
Profile Image for Rosie Amber.
Author 0 books118 followers
October 5, 2017
Fionn Defence Of Ráth Bládhma book #1 is a novel set in Ireland in 192 AD. Based on narratives from the Fenian Cycle, this book is one author’s interpretation of the days surrounding the birth of Irish legend Fionn mac Cumhaill.

For those, like me, who are new to this great myth, the basic story is about Muirne Muncháem, fleeing for safety; heavily pregnant, she asks for refuge from her sister-in-law, druidess Bodhmhall. The babe has an ethereal shining spirit which is brighter than Bodhmhall has ever seen, and it quickly becomes apparent that dark forces also seek the child.

At their lonely outpost with just a handful of occupants, little defence and one trusted warrior, Bodhmhall reluctantly accepts help from Fiacail mac Codhna and his two men-at-arms. Together they must face a fifty strong army with a dark side Seer, who seem set on coming for the child.

Filled with magic, heroism, myth and danger, this book grew on me.

Liath Luachra was one of my favourite characters; her choice of body clothing at a crucial battle point was comedic, especially when she ran off in surprise, only to realise she hadn’t fully thought through her plan.

I also liked Fiacail; his persona as a lady’s man hid a noble warrior and wise leader. But it brought a light tone to a tense battle scene. The touches on humour lifted the story, for me, and kept me interested right up until the end. Book #2 will continue the story some six years later.
4 reviews
October 3, 2019
There are story tellers and there's great storytellers!
O'Sullivan fits the latter category and I'd have him up there with the greats like Tolkien, Goodkind, Sanderson, Martin.
Reaching into our Irish mythology and legends this author has used ancient text to inform his story line and I am hooked not just for the story but to be able to see our old Irish place names and language and getting an imagery of the landscape through the written word is like falling back into my own childhood when we played out such stories and the land lent itself to our games. Irish mythology has inspired writers for generations but never before has a writer openly admitted such, which leaves the reader in safe hands. We know from the onset what has informed the story which leaves us take pure delight in recognising some of our old place names and in some cases wonder if the author is referring to a specific location because we've been there and can see it in our minds eye.
The story of Fionn is written with care and attention and the inevitable humour and 'wisps of magic' that is so readily available within Irish culture to this day.
If it's tall tales you're after stick to tabloids and politics.
If it's a story that you can fall into and be enthralled by then this author is for you.
Profile Image for Fiona Hurley.
221 reviews51 followers
January 21, 2019
This is not really a story about Fionn MacCumhaill*, legendary Irish hero of the Fenian cycle. All he does in this book is be born, cry a lot, and provide a motivation for his mother to be hunted. It is instead the story of his aunt, the druidess Bodhmhall, and her lover, the warrior Liath Luachra. But that's more than OK, because these two women** are the best. Bodhmhall is a leader and a healer, Liath Luachra is tough as leather, and as guardians go, baby Fionn could do a lot worse.
It's fast-paced and gritty. The fantasy elements are there (Bodhmhall has magical gifts, and there's a scary supernatural antagonist) but understated. Looking forward to reading the next volume in the story of Bodhmhall and Liath, and maybe even see more of Fionn himself once he gets out of nappies.

*Pronounced Fyon MacCool. But in my head, I can still hear my nephew say "Fee-un Mac Com-hail", which in fairness was pretty good for a 7-year-old American kid reading the words for the first time.
** Yes, it is a same-sex relationship and everyone in their society seems OK with this. I think we know so little about the mores of pre-Christian Ireland that any arguments about "historical accuracy" on this account would be silly.
4 reviews
March 3, 2019
As someone with a keen interest in mythology, especially Irish, I was intrigued by this novel which begins with Fionn’s heavily-pregnant mother seeking refuge at the small fort of Rath Bladhma. There is a sense of time and place which gets you right into the story. The description of the Great Wild makes it seem like a character in itself, not malicious but certainly not forgiving. The picture of domestic life in the Rath doesn’t pull any punches on the less glamorous side of the iron age, and the violence when it happens is often gory. A visceral insight on a period of Irish history that’s rarely written about, and even more rarely written well. There are even a few words and phrases as Gaeilge thrown in which is another plus.
Profile Image for Yvette Tillema.
1 review1 follower
November 28, 2017
excellent, I have read of these characters in Lady Gregory's Complete Irish Mythology and Ancient Irish tales by Cross and Slover. The big difference is I have to read the mythology books with James MacKillops Dictionary of Celtic Mythology in conjunction. This book brings alive two famous female warrior/druids and the tale of the coming of Finn, one of Irelands greatest heroes without aching brain. More like the tale without the study. If you have any interest in the ancient tales of Ireland and female characters than do yourself a favor and read his books.
Profile Image for Agnes Conway.
87 reviews7 followers
January 28, 2017
This book surprised me, in a good way. Not one I'd have been attracted to, normally, I bought it only because it was a finalist in the Self-published fantasy blog off SPFBO Very good story, good characters, good action. I'm half-way through the next in the series, so it's really gripped me. It's an exciting read, and I bonded with the characters.
Profile Image for Maureen.
432 reviews8 followers
December 20, 2020
I was quite captivated by this story and read it quickly. I found myself thinking of the people in it when I wasn't reading, which for me, is the sign of a great book. I was a bit disappointed in the ending, because it was very abrupt. It's not a cliffhanger, but we're still left with plenty of questions. However, I do not feel compelled to continue with the next book.
76 reviews
July 23, 2019
Gathered momentum

The start was a bit rough, but by the end I could not put it down. The battle for the Ráth was incredible and intense. The feint drawing some of the attackers inspired bordering on insanity. Fun read.
198 reviews
May 13, 2020
Enthralling adventures

Characters are well drawn and engaging. The descriptions are so well done you can feel yourself there. The battles are well described and you hold your breath hoping for the best. You feel the pain of their losses. All in all a great story.
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