Bending The Boyne: A novel of ancient Ireland Paperback – Mar 11 2011
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About the Author
The author lived in Ireland and traveled the north Atlantic coasts during the past decade, to research and complete this historical fiction set in the early Bronze Age.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
However, since reading it I have found it winding itself around my memory and my heart. It's different from anything I've ever read before on the ancient history of Ireland. In fact, while there are quirky bits of history inserted like pebbles into the landscape of the story, it concerns not mere history, but the myths and legends that are deeply rooted in our past.
The many and varied characters make no concession to their place in this mythical/historical setting. They live their lives as they would have all those years ago, uncaring of the modern reader. That is not to say that the story is disdainful of readers, but that it is uncompromising in its pursuit of the mythical truths that underlie all really good historical novels.
The Boyne of the title is the river that winds through the heart of Ireland and its history. It was at the Battle of the Boyne that the forces of the Catholic King James and Protestant King William met in a clash that echoes down the centuries and has left its mark on the whole society of Ireland, north and south.
J. S. Dunn's delightful novel shows the sowing of the first seeds of conflict between invaders and native Irish, or those who preceded them. It harks back to a time when myth and history were one, as they remain in our subconscious to this day. The natives are shown to be thoughtful, wise astronomers, with their eyes firmly fixed on the skies for signs of the modern Ireland that must surely have appeared to them in visions and dreams. Yet they will not yield their land to the more down-to-earth and less wise invaders, who seek gold not for its relationship to the sun, but for the power and earthly wealth it can bring them.
The story is well conceived, and, as with all good historical fiction, provides an engaging path towards understanding how life may have been for people during this period. If you've read much Irish history (especially of the last 1000 years) you may get a strong sense of déjà vu, or, as they say on "Battlestar Galactica" - "All of this has happened before; all of this will happen again". There are strong parallels between the Starwatcher/Invader struggles and the Irish/English struggles, as a largely agrarian culture is nearly swamped by a strongly trade driven colonial power. The parallels are not limited to the Irish/English struggles, however, as this story has been played out all through human history, with striking similarities.
Dunn tells a good story, with engaging characters. I have to say that neither Boann nor Cian, the main protagonists, seem 'fully formed', and Elcmar, the main antagonist came across as 1 dimensional with strong hints of deeper drives/motivations never fully explored. Despite this, it's still a good story and, except for a bit of sluggishness late in the first half of the novel, it captures and keeps the reader's interest, becoming a bit of a page-turner at the end (and without resorting to long and/or multiple battle scenes). The Starwatchers are a peace-loving people, and Dunn writes a good story where these peaceful folks manage to hold their own, though not totally without compromise and cost. If you're looking for stories of warrior-heroes moving from battle to battle, this isn't the right book for you. But if you want to imagine how a peaceful, agrarian culture may have stood up against an invading force with greater technology and conquest in mind, you could hardly do better than "Bending the Boyne". Oh, and Dunn provides pronunciation help, character descriptions, and a brief glossary in the back, so don't let the `difficult' names get in the way.
So good to read something about ancient Ireland that does not resort to modern, usually misinformed, obsession with Celts!
I was intrigued by this book when I saw it listed as an Early Reviewer offering at Librarything.com. I love historical fiction, and I enjoy archeology - but I know very little of the Stone Age/Bronze Age and even less about prehistoric Ireland. So this seemed to be a great way to learn a little through a pleasantly diverting novel.
By the time I reached the hundred page mark, I had determined that I would not be finishing this book. It was a very poor match for me and my personal tastes. These are the key reasons:
1. There wasn't adequate proofreading/editing, so odd sentences show up that don't make sense.
Take this line from the opening paragraph:
"A glut of vehicles, their noise, the fumes, assailed his broad shoulders." (1)
OK. Assail = attack, yes? There's an excessive supply of cars, and the noise and stench of them are attacking...a man's shoulders? What?? Unless the cars are attempting to run him over, there's no way this sentence can begin to make sense, since shoulders can neither smell nor hear. The following passage makes it clear, however, that the unnamed man isn't roadkill. Odd sentences like this appeared frequently enough to distract me from the story - never a good thing.
On a lesser note, there are quite a few grammatical errors scattered throughout. Semicolons connect fragments together; errant commas sprout randomly in the middle of sentences. In one form or another, there's a mistake on almost every page. Again, I found it incredibly distracting.
2. Formatting is inconsistent.
Italics are applied inconsistently for internal dialogue. It's clear that some internal thoughts are being had, but they aren't clearly demarcated. It seemed like a fifty-fifty split - half the time, characters' thoughts appear in italics. The rest of the time, nothing is done to differentiated thoughts from actions. It just seems...sloppy to me. Again, I feel like a proofreader should have caught this before the book went to print.
3. Dialogue is stiff and awkward.
I did like that there's a clear difference between how the Starwatchers and the Invaders speak, but the manner in which the Starwatchers talk does come across as very unnatural.
4. This last one is a very personal bias. I don't like it when ancient societies are portrayed as peaceful, earth-hugging hippie types who are at peace with the world and at one with each other, living in perfect harmony until the day a Big Bad Other comes along and runs them over with their evil technological ways. I just can't buy the myth of a peaceful society.
I'd say that it was the Maya civilization that ruined this for me. Back at the beginning of the 20th century, it was widely thought that the Maya were a quiet, peaceful civilization worshiping the stars and lead by stargazer-priests. One hundred years later, we know that isn't true at all; the Maya were warriors, practiced blood sacrifice, and had a complex government system. They weren't at all like the stargazer-priests.
The Minoans, too, were long thought to be a peaceful society of merchants, but again, archeology has revealed the presence of fortifications and weapons on Crete. I guess I don't have faith in humanity - I don't think we can exist without conflict, and a truly harmonious society is a fantasy. But because of this bias, I couldn't buy into the Starwatchers society created by J. S. Dunn.
As I said before, I don't know much about this time period in Ireland or the archeological evidence to support Dunn's creation, but the author provides a short but comprehensive summary in the final chapter of recent archeological discoveries pertaining to the monoliths and the Boyne river area. A bibliography of the author's research wasn't in the printed book, but it is available on his (or her?) website.
Even though I object to the peaceful Boyne natives (it's just too mythological for my tastes) I would have been able to keep reading had the sloppiness of the writing and editing not killed it for me. I know that small presses don't have the same resources as the big publishing houses, but I still expect a professional, polished product if I'm to devote several hours to reading it. It really makes a difference. As it was, I was skimming by the halfway point, and I skipped most of the final third of the book.