Tag Archives: Arthur Quinn and the World Serpent

Book Review Saturday – The Father of Lies Chronicles

Happy Saturday, all!

This weekend’s book review post is more of a ‘series’ review, really. I’ve recently finished ‘Arthur Quinn and Hell’s Keeper’, the final book in Alan Early’s ‘The Father of Lies Chronicles’, and it’ll be tough to do a review of it without touching on the two books which came before it. So, I’ll jumble them all in together here and hope for the best.

Image: argosybooks.ie

Image: argosybooks.ie

Very few things in life please me more than finishing a series. I love trilogies, and – unlike a lot of readers – I love waiting for the second and third instalments in a sequence of books. I’ve been following Arthur Quinn’s adventures for a while now – you may remember me mentioning him way back in January – and it was great to finally get my hands on the wrap-up to his story, and to finally find out the answers to some of the questions that have always hung over the character: why was it Arthur who was chosen to stand against the gods? What happened to his mother? And, most pertinently: is it even possible to slay a god?

The series began with Arthur and his dad Joe facing the prospect of moving away from their home in Kerry just after the death of Arthur’s beloved mother. Joe’s job is bringing him to Ireland’s capital, and Arthur isn’t best pleased at having to leave behind everything he has known and loved. This first book (‘Arthur Quinn and the World Serpent’) introduces us to the Jormungand, the terrifying snake which circles the earth in Norse legend; it has slept beneath Dublin for a millennium, and in the course of works needed to build a tunnel for Dublin’s new underground railway, the creature is awoken accidentally. It is up to Arthur, and some new-found friends, to stand against the creature. The Jormungand is, of course, one of the three children of Loki, the trickster-god of Norse mythology; as well as dealing with the serpent, then, Arthur also has to cope with its father, who wants to unleash Ragnarok, or utter destruction, upon the world. We see how skilfully the terrifying character of Loki weaves his way into Arthur’s life, manipulating him without Arthur even being aware he’s doing it. It takes all of Arthur’s strength, and the help of a band of long-dead (now reanimated) Viking warriors to see off the World Serpent… but, of course, Loki manages to escape their clutches, because that is what he does best.

The second book, ‘Arthur Quinn and the Fenris Wolf’, introduces us to Fenrir, the second of Loki’s terrible children. In mythology, Fenrir ate the sun at Ragnarok, plunging the earth into darkness and despair; in the book, he is a man who has been tasked with building an army of wolves, one which will help Loki bring about the end of the world. New characters are introduced in this book, including the Lavender siblings, Ellie and Ex, whose motivations are never quite clear; we also meet Ice, a puppy which Arthur’s friend Ash risks her life to save, and who turns out to be far more than appearances would allow. The book concludes with a fantastic showdown between Loki and the children, where help arrives from an unexpected place, and Arthur makes a huge personal sacrifice to save the world, once again, from Loki’s wrath.

Finally, then, we come to the final book in the trilogy. ‘Hell’s Keeper’ is the goddess Hel, who is – in mythology – a horrifying half-alive, half-dead creature, the guardian of a realm of the same name, where the dead live. In this book, the idea of ‘Hel’ is used to powerful effect, even if the goddess herself only makes a brief appearance. The book begins back in Kerry, where Arthur has not had long to recover from the exertions of his last adventure before a strange dream invades the sleep of everyone on earth, all at the same time (with exceptions made for time-zones, and so forth!) The dream shows a child being kidnapped, and Arthur and his friends know who the kidnapper is – Loki. They know he is planning something, but clues are scant as to what, exactly, he’s up to. Then, the trickster god appears, and tells Arthur a heart-shattering secret which asks as many questions as it answers; even more terrifyingly, he uses his power to destroy Arthur in front of his friends. Luckily, however, this is not the end: Arthur is transported to Asgard, and from there to an alternative version of Dublin, one in which he has never existed. In this ‘Dublin’, Loki is king, and Arthur not only has to face him, but also some familiar-looking enemies from his past.

I really enjoyed this series of books, for a lot of reasons. I love books set in Ireland, and/or written by Irish authors, for a start; I really enjoy reading stories which take place in settings I’m familiar with. I also love books which breathe new life into old stories, and which make myths and legends come alive in the minds of their readers. I am a big fan of children’s books which base themselves in the rich cultural legacy of their country of origin, and for that reason alone, I knew I’d love this series.  In the final book, I particularly enjoyed the author’s imagining of an ‘alternative’ Dublin, and how an apocalyptic disaster might affect humanity – it was a dreadful picture, but there were some sparks of compassion and kindness there, too. I found myself delighted with the character of Arthur; his courage and self-sacrifice, as well as his love for his friends and family, were wonderful.

At times, however, the style of writing in ‘Hell’s Keeper’ was a little description-heavy and a lot of things were ‘told’ instead of ‘shown’; it’s hard not to do this, though, when you’re writing a book of this nature, which relies so much on ‘stories within stories’. I also felt that ‘Hell’s Keeper’ could have been a little more compactly edited – bits of it felt too long, to me, and I thought the other books had a better structure, and better pacing. Overall, though, this is a series I’d recommend for anyone 8+ who’s looking for a fresh voice in children’s fantasy fiction, and who wants to learn a bit about Dublin and the Vikings, to boot!

'Loki's Brood', 1905, Emil Doepler. Image: en.wikipedia.org

‘Loki’s Brood’, 1905, Emil Doepler.
Image: en.wikipedia.org

 

 

 

Monday, Monday

Happy Monday, if such a thing is possible.

calvin and hobbes

I hope good weekends were had by all. I spent mine not doing very much, partly due to the fact that my husband is a bit under the weather, but also due to the fact that we were both exhausted, and a weekend of keeping a low profile just seemed like the way to go. I am feeling a bit cabin-feverish this morning, however – so, as soon as the sun comes up (any minute now!) I’ll head outside and get some fresh air. I wasn’t able to bring myself to go for a walk yesterday – slothing about the place seemed like a good idea at the time, but I regret it now.

I did manage to get some work done on the book, though, and I remain mystified by the fact that I’m finding so much in it, still, that needs immediate remedial work. I’m only about one-third of the way through, but I hope I’ll be finished by the end of this week. It’s incredible that all the things I’m spotting now were things I missed in previous re-reads, but it just proves the point that leaving your book alone for a little while between edits is the best thing you can do. I don’t think I’ll be changing anything major, structurally – I think it’s pretty much the way I want it to be in that regard – but I guess nothing is out of bounds, really. I’ve realised that editing can – and probably should – be a painful and extensive process, mainly because I also spent some time this weekend watching videos (well, they’re probably not ‘videos’, per se. I’m showing my age! They’re probably ‘podcasts’, or some such) on the brilliant website, http://www.writing.ie. Carlo Gébler, Sinéad Moriarty and Declan Hughes – three Irish authors – share their insights into writing, and the writing process, and their tricks and tips for overcoming common problems. I’d really recommend checking them out, if writing is your thing. I found them immensely useful. I was, however, a bit terrified by Carlo Gébler’s insight into editing – he recommended looking through your book to find entire sections which can be cut out, then re-reading to find chapters to cut, then re-reading to find paragraphs you can cut, and so on until you’re down to words. At that rate, I wonder how you’d have any book left at all, but what do I know. Perhaps he was just being descriptive and dramatic! His point, of course, is that nothing is sacred. The part of your book which you love the most will often be the first bit that an editor will rip apart – I’m sure, if I ever get to the point where another pair of eyes look over this WiP of mine, that this will happen to me, too.

Sometimes, when I’m doing other things and not thinking about my book at all (at least not consciously thinking about it – I don’t think my brain ever really lets it go properly), an image or a scene or even the actual words I’ve used at various points in the text will come back to me, and I’ll cringe at their terribleness. I’ll berate myself for using such a cheesy phrase, or for making such a horrible sentence, or creating such a ridiculous scene. And then I’ll read it over again, and realise it’s not as bad as I remembered. I wonder why this happens, sometimes, but I’ve learned not to worry about it any more. One thing I’ve learned over the last few months is that no matter how weird your thoughts get when you’re writing a book, that someone, somewhere, has experienced just the same thing. I live in hope that I’m not the only person who does this strange self-criticism.

As well as my editing, I also managed to read ‘Arthur Quinn and the World Serpent’, by Alan Early. This book has been on my radar for a while, because it’s set in Dublin (yay!) and it involves Norse mythology (double yay!) I love books that connect Ireland to the history of the Viking world, because I think the Irish role in the Viking story is too often overlooked. The book is also quite topical, as it takes the building of an underground railway in Dublin as a central plot point. At the moment, work is just beginning in Dublin on a light rail track which will run through the city centre, so it’s interesting to read the book in that light. The story is great – it has a strong core concept (the World Serpent, or Jormungard, has been lying dormant under Dublin for a thousand years, waiting to be woken), and I liked the characters. The author makes great use of Loki, the Trickster god, who can take on any appearance he likes, and I really enjoyed the author’s use of a theme-park which he calls ‘The Viking Experience’, particularly at the end of his story. There is a real Viking theme-park (of sorts) in Dublin, and the next time I visit I’ll be taking a very close look at some of the exhibits, now that I know how this book ends! I’m looking forward to the second book in the series, which involves the wolf Fenrir – and if the series continues the way it should, the third book will deal with Loki’s most terrifying child, the goddess Hel, who is half-alive and half-dead, and guards the Norse underworld. Let’s hope that’s the way the author intends to go! This book is great, and perfectly pitched at children from about the age of eight or so.

Right. Well, the sun is nearly up, so it’s time to make good on my promise. I’d better go and pull on my walking shoes, and get some air into these decrepit old lungs. Have a great day, all.

 

Image credit: hepatitiscnewdrugs.blogspot.com (via Google Images)