Select one of the keywords
A Shadow of Gulls    by Patricia Finney order for
Shadow of Gulls
by Patricia Finney
Order:  USA  Can
Putnam, 1977 (1958)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I treasure my copies of Patricia Finney's duo about Lugh Mac Romain in old (around 113 A.D.) Ireland. The tale told in A Shadow of Gulls and The Crow Goddess incorporates both the Ulster cycle of Irish Hero-tales (in particular those involving Cuchulain) and the early Roman conquest of Britain. Note that this author has also written two excellent Elizabethan historical novels (Firedrake's Eye and Unicorn's Blood) and a series of Elizabethan mysteries, the latter under the pen name P. F. Chisholm.

Lugh is a bard who grew up in Cruachan, Connaught, the bastard son of a Roman, whom Queen Maeve had killed, and of the Queen's younger sister. Maeve is now ageing, but still revered as the Goddess on Earth. She sits 'on her pile of catskins with her silver apple-branch on her lap and her crow on her shoulder.' In Connacht, a new King is chosen every seven years by the Queen at Samhain, his first task being to fight and kill his predecessor, sacrosanct until that time. Unfortunately the current Consort, attacks Lugh before Samhain and is killed by him, when to kill the King untimely is to be Cursed.

Lugh flees North to Ulster, intending to take refuge there. Since his own harp was broken in the struggle with Ailell, Lugh goes gifted with his teacher's Fiorbhinn, whose name means Truesweet. He arrives in Emain Macha, ruled by King Conor, a 'fox in wolf's clothing', and stays to make songs 'from Hero-tales and praises to satires that will raise a blemish on a woman's face.' There Lugh is befriended by 'a very small-sized, wiry-built man with a dark, sad-looking face' (Cuchulain Mac Sualtim, Champion of Ulster), and by his wife Emer.

Events unfold, including feasts, contests, games of fidchell, a boar hunt, the treacherous killing of the sons of Usnach and the tragic suicide of the lovely Deirdre (an Irish Helen of Troy). This event splits the Ulster nobles and starts a civil war, in which Lugh is severely injured, rescued by the Fir Bolg, and nursed by young tattooed Otter of the Tuatha de Danaan, who learns to love him. She tells him of the time before the Iron Folk came 'Once we were great, but now we are secret.' As Lugh slowly recovers, Connacht invades Ulster, and the Queen seeks revenge for Lugh's flight from her. There is a betrayal, a thrilling escape, and more battles for Cuchulain, manipulated by the coldhearted Conor.

A Shadow of Gulls brings old Ireland to life, in a tale of heroes, honor and geasa, with cultures and armies clashing, and at the center a talented harper and songmaker torn between his Irish and Roman blood. It ends as Lugh Mac Romain leaves Erin for Britain, the Island of the Mighty, where his story is taken up again in The Crow Goddess.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Historical books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews