Reviewing: Beyond a Darkened Shore by Jessica Leake

I am an absolute sucker for mythology. When we had to give a speech for our English Language GCSE, I gave mine on Greek Gods and Goddesses, I read Percy Jackson as a young teen and one of my eye-opening, LGBT reads was The Dark Wife. I have devoured Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology and American Gods as an adult and whenever I watch the Thor movies I always look to see which elements of the mythos will be included. Folklore and legend fascinate me, so it should come as no surprise whatsoever that when I received Beyond A Darkened Shore in my FairyLoot box and saw that it was about magic and mythology, I was utterly delighted.

Side Note: I know very little about the actual history of the relations between the Celts and the Vikings other than that they were quite complex. I’d love to know more about it, but at the time of writing this review my knowledge off the top of my head extends to ‘well they invaded us at one point and now some of us have blue eyes’. Right, now that’s out of the way, on to slashing Jotuns in half lengthways.

Beyond A Darkened Shore follows Ciara, a young Celtic princess estranged from her people by her peculiar gifts, as she encounters Lief – a Northman, and the only person ever to resist the control she asserts over the minds of others. Aside from peculiar gifts, they also have in common the fact that their fathers are terrible people. Just the worst. I feel like you don’t have to have a terrible parent (or more than one) to feature in a YA novel, but it does help. Now, these are two people, with two very different belief systems, who both have deity-gifted powers (that word always makes me think of superheroes, which I had to get over quite fast as it’s used a lot in this book).

How, I hear you ask, can they both be right? Well, without going too spoilery on you, Mythology across pretty much the entire world contains gods acting through humans to do their dirty work, or simply because that is the only way they can affect change in the world because they are older, less powerful or just really sneaky or lazy. Imagine that, but with multiple different faiths getting in on it. There you go.

I LOVE the imagery of this book, the visual descriptions of this strange, twisted world are excellent – a particular favourite scene of mine is when a person with ‘the sight’ beyond what normal humans can see, describes how he views the world. Love me some dark imagery. The Morrigan specifically is terrifying, she’s also devious and smug and awesome but man, she’s scary. What impresses me most is that you have this array of colourful and powerful god-like figures, but they don’t overpower the book. The humans here are the centrepiece, stealing the show when they don’t approve of how it is being run. When you encounter her, Lief’s aunt is amazing – I want an entire book about the badass Shield-Maiden please. This book definitely inspired me to read more into these two cultures, and how they clashed during a time where the world was still being mapped out. Certainly it made me want to attend a Viking feast. They sound like the best party ever (right up until the point where someone starts flicking blood at you for good luck). This is a book that explores the perception of differing cultures as ‘other’ and the Vikings encountering Ireland from both the view of the invaders and the invaded. Fighting alongside each other can be a good team-building exercise, and both Lief and Ciara begin to see a newly human aspect to the people they have previously only seen as the enemy. These are people, funny and determined and human, with families and lives to fight for until the death if need be.

There are times where the romance plot seems a tad inconvenient – this is a deadly, world-changing mission and occasionally Lief gets slightly sidetracked by his giant crush on Ciara. Don’t get me wrong, it’s cute but damn boy please focus. Please. I would also feel like a bad reviewer if I didn’t inform you that at one point, Ciara is threatened with sexual assault. Do not let this put you off the book too much though, as the person doing the threatening is dead very soon thereafter and quite rightly so. It also includes this line:

“And I suppose it’s my fault he attacked me, then? I shouldn’t have been there – being all female and tempting?”

Which is frankly iconic.

Overall I really enjoyed this book, it was a beautifully described, self-contained story – I find so many books nowadays do tend to leave a lot open for sequels and it is nice to read a book that is its own story arc – with those touches of magic and mythology that just drew me in. I’d definitely recommend it to those of you out there who enjoy history or folklore as well as fantasy fans!

Overall Rating: 📖📖📖📖📖 5 books out of5

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