Celtic Tales: Balor of the Evil Eye – Nadine Crenshaw

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And we’re back in mythical Ireland and yet again Balor is economically oppressing the hell out of everyone by getting his Fomor troops to demand unreasonable tribute from the cowed Tuatha De Danaan. This time Lugh Lamfada is nowhere to be seen, and as multinationals have yet to avoid taxation by basing themselves in the Emerald Isle it looks like it’s up Medb, twenty-six year old queen of the small province of Sligo, to unite her squabbling countrymen to defeat the dreadful laser ogre. Problem is, the young queen has a serious confidence problem and wants nothing more than to swan around the greens of Connaught. Her competence and sheer luck say otherwise.

The first thing I noticed about this book was all the mythical anachronisms and the general alternative universe vibe of the thing. Medb’s Ireland is divided into many little warring polities, and she needs to unite these provinces before taking on Balor. And the leaders of these other communities share the name of prominent Irish mythical figures, like Nuada the Silver-Handed, who also shows up in Flint’s Sidhe books. Likewise the Daghda also appears. Flint writes him as a pragmatically witty obese muscleman, but with Crenshaw he’s a violent man with red hair. Later on, Finn Mac Cool gets a name check, which would be like having Ned Kelly fight at Gallipoli. I don’t hold this air of weirdness against Crenshaw because her book is based on a Japanese strategy game, but these oddities will disconcert aficionados of Irish mythology.

There were too many named characters in Balor of the Evil Eye, which may well be another artifact from the game. When you’ve got a list of thirty-four characters at the start of a 238 page novel, that might be a warning… That said, I always knew who everyone was. Just that if I were editing this novel I’d have removed some of the lesser character’s names and referred to them by their roles.

The main characters are sympathetically drawn. Despite Medb’s low expectations of herself, her lack of confidence¬†doesn’t alienate the reader. Her major problem is a mismatch between her talents and passions – she’s very good at leadership and administration, but she’d probably be happier as a gardener or druid. The talents and passions of Ysbaddaden, a swarthy hero and her love interest, are probably too well matched. His character is defined by his frustration at Medb’s reluctance to unify Ireland and an overwhelming desire to kill Balor. Crenshaw’s Balor is little more than natural and economic destruction with a face. I received no hint that he had any motivation beyond being as horrible to Irish people as possible. That’s not necessarily a problem for a villain, but it certainly doesn’t make them memorable.

There is a bit of romance between Medb and the unspellable Ysbaddaden, but it wasn’t too bad. We receive a little backstory about how they trained together under the swordsman Skatha and how they grew apart, and at the very end they unite, but the focus of the book is on Medb’s campaign against Balor. Whenever I read romance focalised through a female heterosexual lead, I judge it on how much her partner reminds me of myself. Readers of this blog can judge for themselves whether or not I’m an Irish berserker, but like Ysbaddaden I have brown hair, which is nice because historically that is the least romanticized shade. Unlike him I am nowhere near brave enough to squeeze myself into ginger leggings. Romance does not dominate Balor of the Evil Eye to the point that it will alienate those allergic to the kissy stuff, but those of a Harlequin bent might find it an intriguing bonus.

All up, we have readable characters in an interesting situation that I find both familiar and alien. The romance is tolerable and there are too many characters. This is a far better book than the atrocious cover art would suggest.

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