Gentle, peace-loving Finnabair, daughter of the ambitious warrior queen Medb of Connacht, makes a beguiling narrator in Osborne-McKnight’s third engaging historical to recast Celtic myth (after 2002’s Daughter of Ireland). For years, Medb has used Finnabair as a pawn in her perpetual war games. Determined to win the prized brown bull of Ulster, the ruthless queen promises her daughter’s hand to any man who kills boy warrior Cuchulainn, Ulster’s legendary hero. Among the many who die in the attempt is Froech, Finnabair’s beloved, one of the Others, or fairy folk. The irresistibly charming Cuchulainn himself is half Other and he is sorry to kill Froech, as he confesses to Finnabair several years later. They meet when Finnabair tries to kill herself, overwhelmed by the deaths of so many in her name and by her forced marriage to Ulster warrior Rochad. But her marriage and her meeting with Cuchulainn mark a turning point in her life. Learning to love Rochad and to forgive her mother, she brings peace to both sides, though Medb’s insatiable quest for power soon causes war to break out again. In its emphasis on traditional “feminine” values, the novel diverges most obviously from the author’s primary source, the epic Tain, “Ireland’s Iliad and Odyssey.” Warm, playful and eloquent, this is a welcome addition to the genre.
McKnight’s first two novels based on Irish myth are I Am of Irelaunde : A Novel of Patrick and Osian and Daughter of Ireland about a druid priestess in the time of Ireland’s Christianization.