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The Meeting of the Waters: Book One of the Watchers Trilogy

by Caiseal Mór

(Earthlight, £6.99, 477 pages, paperback, first published in Australia 2000, this edition published 17 July 2003.)

Review by Nicholas Whyte

Many authors have attempted to grapple with Irish mythology and transform it into something lucrative for today's market; there cover scanseems to be a whole sub-genre of Celtic Mist fantasy, which no doubt sells well among the 60 million strong Irish diaspora, with a subsidiary market among the smaller (but probably on average more highbrow) Pagan community. I blame Marion Zimmer Bradley, myself; her Mists of Avalon is taken almost as holy writ in some quarters. (Perhaps Robin of Sherwood should take some responsibility too.)

Caiseal Mór, an Irish Australian writer, has chosen not to take the tried and tested tropes of Cuchulain or Finn MacCool, but instead tries here to inject some life into the obscure story of the arrival of the Celts in an island populated by the Fir Bolgs and the Tuatha de Danaan. (Julian May, of course, plundered this myth much more memorably in her Saga of the Exiles.) The story revolves around the royal household of the last Fir Bolg king, pushed by the druids and bards into allying with his traditional enemies against the invaders, with the sinister supernatural Watchers (who are the author's own invention) trying to sow dissension and chaos.

It's a pleasant read, but not really profound. It's also too long, with too much dialogue and not enough action. The dialogue is a bit clunky as well; selecting a page at random I find characters stating, raging, laughing, telling, frowning, confessing and demanding in direct speech, but without actually saying anything. The characters are nicely sketched, though the means and motivation of the villains remain unclear, and the effectiveness of magic seems entirely dependent on the needs of the plot.

What I miss most in Mór's work is a real sense of place. Although the book is supposedly set in what is now County Clare, which has a distinctive limestone terrain, there is barely a mention of the physical surroundings -- enough to set each scene and no more; it feels like a series of close-range snapshots rather than a landscape. What geography there is seems rather arbitrary. One crucial scene takes place in a forest that just happened to be in the way -- an unnamed forest, of which we have not previously heard, though within easy walking distance of our central characters' home.

Anyway, this is the first book of the author's second trilogy, so there is clearly a market out there for him. I'm afraid I don't think I am a likely future reader myself.

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