The Rock of Achill, by Jim Sheehan, is a historical fantasy set in Ireland, with fairies and mystical creatures as well as rich landlords and struggling peasants.
For most of the novel, a brave young man called Donn adventures abroad, while dreaming of the day he’ll return with enough wealth to reclaim his family’s land and marry his love Bridget. Donn’s love for a powerful horse leads him to a rebel crew, led by Cathal, and he joins them on their travels, fighting by their side, but always hoping to earn enough to return home and be with Bridget. Cathal hopes to find a powerful, mythic sword that will help him reclaim Ireland, and his search for information about this sword leads the rebels to distant ports, where they encounter both human and magical adversaries. Whether they encounter bruxas or battles, the rebels use their quick thinking to keep moving forward on their quest. It’s an epic fantasy adventure, a bit like stories of King Arthur’s men on quests, but with Irish heroes and myth.
The blend of magical creatures and political unrest forms the background, as readers get to know Cathal and Donn, and really understand their goals. There are moments of humor and fear, but the love of Ireland shines through for both men: Cathal, who longs to set thing right on a grand scale, and Donn, who longs to set things right personally. Although Cathal’s goal is more epic, and propels the rebels through all their dangers and adventures, for Donn (and for readers!), getting back the family land, marrying his love and living a quiet life back home are warm, admirable goals.
Fans of Celtic myth will enjoy the world of The Rock of Achill, but it’s still accessible without any background knowledge, as the characters fully explain the myths and heroes, and at it’s heart, this is the quest of a young man to return home to his love.