From Publishers Weekly
A hodgepodge of lusty elves, magical spells and powerful Druids augments this tale of greed and death the fourth installment of the Ulster Cycle translated from the Gaelic by Eickhoff (Fallon's Wake). One of Ireland's treasured legends, it traces the rise and fall of Conaire, king of Erin. Born to the granddaughter of ta¡n, a princess of the people of the elf-mounds, Conaire is fathered by a bird-man before his mother's marriage to Eterscl, king of Erin. At his mother's request, he is subsequently fostered by a shepherd, two warriors and herself. The benevolent king allows the sons of his most trustworthy warrior to be fostered with the prince as well. Closer than siblings, the four youths fill their days with practical jokes and boyish pursuits. Upon the death of the king, Conaire is called back to the castle by a bird-man messenger and instructed to rule his kingdom peacefully and wisely. When he is proclaimed king above his three foster brothers, jealousy rears its head, and they begin raiding the land until Conaire is forced to act, banishing them from the kingdom. The brothers join with fellow raiders from England and terrorize the countryside, always setting their sights on Conaire. Originally an epic poem passed down orally, the story loses something in the translation into sometimes awkward English prose; its shifting time frames and viewpoints disrupt the flow of the story; and the Old Irish names are too similar and far too numerous to keep track of. While the story will intrigue students of Irish history, it may prove too confusing and scattered for the general reader.
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In this translation of a famous Irish epic, Eickhoff brings this rousing adventure tale to a modern audience. Tracing the family line of Connaire, the Irish high king in the last century before the common era, the story begins with his great-grandparents' courtship (he is a king and she is a fairy) and ends with Connaire's untimely demise at the Inn of Da Derga. In between, babies are condemned to death only to be raised in secret, foster brothers turn into werewolves, a bird seduces a maiden, and elves and fairies freely traipse over from the Other World. Connaire's downfall, which serves as an examination of the role of fate in a person's life, is ultimately a result of his breaking the elaborate taboos of his kingship placed on him by the gods. Eickhoff supplements the story with comprehensive endnotes, illuminating arcane Irish historical references as well as providing helpful background information on Irish mythology. Readers interested in mythology and Irish folklore will thrill to this fast-paced epic, which should please both scholar and layperson alike. Brendan DowlingCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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