[Rachel Caine’s Feast of Fools is available in the U. S. today.]
I had never heard of Kate Thompson prior to this book, melanoma but that appears to be my fault, as she has published three books for adults and thirteen for children, including this volume and its sequel, The Last of the High Kings. She is English by birth, but Irish by residence. Due to a moderately common name, her website is at http://www.katethompson.info, in case readers may like to visit it.
J. J. Liddy, a fifteen-year-old boy in the west of Ireland, has been raised with a combination of tradition and modernity. His family lives on a farm, and he plays traditional music incredibly well, but he attends high school and has been invited to go clubbing with his best friend on a ceilidh night. However, something odd is happening to his town — there just never seems to be time for anything. Buses are late; evenings disappear; no one has spare time anymore. J. J.’s mother, for her birthday, just wishes for more hours in the day, so J. J. goes out to find them for her. Can he? And where is the time going, anyway?
The book is primarily set in County Galway, Ireland, around Kinvara and Gort. These towns are in the Gaelic-speaking part of Ireland (the Gaeltacht) and they butt right against the Burren, which is a flattish area of stone with bits of green growing in between. Unfortunately, my description can’t give any real idea of what it actually looks like, which is awesome, so one is better off searching Google images. In any case, I’ve actually been there, or at least in the area, so I got an added jolt of nostalgia from reading the book. However, it’s obviously not necessary to visit Ireland before reading Irish fantasy; it’s probably more fun afterwards.
Although the book has well over 400 pages, it’s actually quite a fast read. Each chapter is fairly short; I remember many of them being three pages or fewer. In between each chapter, Ms. Thompson has put a transcription of a traditional Irish song. (A couple of them she wrote herself, but the majority are by Traditional, who was an awfully prolific composer.) The tunes themselves aren’t important, but the titles are. However, a tune plus a blank pages means that there are a good deal fewer pages of text in the book than it looks like. Therefore, if it was the length that was putting one off of reading this book, I would be able to dismiss those concerns.
Prior to this, most of the recent Irish fantasies I had read were not terribly inventive. The New Policeman, on the other hand, manages to use many of the old stories in a tale that didn’t involve an American lass being kidnapped by the faeries, or actually anyone being kidnapped by the faeries. I can’t particularly explain why I thought this book was inventive without giving away too much, but suffice it to say, I enjoyed it quite a bit. Ms. Thompson also has a sly sense of humor that permeates every scene, even though very little is explicitly funny. (There is a plot element involving unmatched socks that did make me laugh, though.)
I enjoyed the characters in this book, very much. J. J. himself is shown as caught between two worlds: the traditional and the modern. His mother is holding her head up in a community that is punishing her for the sins of her grandfather. J. J.’s father is a poet who would love to be inspired by the picturesque landscape, but he has too much work to do on the farm. Overall, though, I’ll give the book 4.5/5 stars and recommend it to anyone who likes their fantasy Irish, but with quirks, and especially people who might have found O. R. Melling’s works a bit cloying.