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The Witches of Eíleanan
Kate Forsyth
Roc Books, 416 pages

The Witches of Eíleanan
Kate Forsyth
Kate Forsyth was born in Sydney, Australia in 1966. She wanted to be a writer from the time she began reading. She wrote her first novel at 7. At 13, along with a friend, she wrote a fantasy trilogy. School and work interceded and it was almost ten years before she began to write a novel again. She has worked as a journalist and freelancer doing brochures, financial reports and then feature articles for magazines like Vogue, Mode Brides, and Interiors.

Kate Forsyth Website
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A review by Regina Lynn Preciado

As I settled into this first novel from Kate Forsyth, the feeling that came to me most strongly was one of familiarity. Not that The Witches of Eíleanan is unoriginal -- far from it. Rather, it fits into a comfortable section of the fantasy bookshelf.

The Witches of Eíleanan doesn't try to be anything other than "regular" fantasy fare. It's not urban, apocalyptic, dark, horror, or esoteric. Despite the excellent prose, it does not pretend to be literary. It is the beginning of a trilogy like the kind that made me fall in love with fantasy in the first place -- a story that takes itself seriously and makes no apologies for being genre fiction (gasp!).

Forsyth builds a complex and fully populated world, a world in which humans and fairy creatures (some common, some new to me) coexisted in relative harmony until the Day of Betrayal sixteen years or so before the novel opens. On that Day, the Banrígh launched her extermination effort against the non-humans, wiping out entire fairy species and sending the few surviving witches into hiding. Her minions still scour the land, killing anyone and anything magical -- or suspected of being magical.

Meanwhile, Isabeau the Foundling leads a sheltered life in a mountain valley. Her guardian Meghan and the animals of the forest are her companions; the valley her world; and for the first sixteen years of her life she barely knows what hardship is. Meghan teaches her herblore, the languages of animals, and the use of the One Power. As Isabeau's birthday approaches, she cannot contain her excitement -- she will be Tested that day, and if she passes she will become a Witch Apprentice.

Then, on the Day of Testing, events that have been brewing for at least two decades begin to boil over. The witches must flee the safety of their valley... embark upon dangerous journeys... risk everything in the hopes of restoring life and liberty to magical creatures. It doesn't help that the dragons are restless or that the deadly Mesmerds have joined the Banrígh's troops. That Isabeau never realized just how protected she was, or that Meghan is suddenly feeling her 400-plus years. Or that the Banrígh's father is displeased with her slow progress in dominating the land.

I said earlier that The Witches of Eíleanan is familiar but original. A strong feminine energy runs through it. Most (but not all) of the powerful figures are female. Women undertake the Quests made necessary by the way the Day of Testing ends. Women lead soldiers, become Scarred Warriors, undergo torture. This is not to say that men do not lead, fight, or suffer -- only that in most of the cultures of Eíleanan, gender does not seem to be a qualification for advancement.

I did tire of the frequent bouts of exposition woven into the first half of the novel. Forsyth has a lot of back story to tell, and while she writes beautifully and blends it in as best she can, I wonder whether a prologue might not have conveyed the necessary information less intrusively. Minor inconsistencies and brief, unexpected shifts in point of view are noticeable but not bothersome.

Otherwise, I was impressed with Forsyth's command of the language and her ability to create such a detailed world. While the constant use of a Scottish brogue in dialog -- "Eat deeply o' the good earth, my bairn, and goodwish the fruits and beasts o' the world" (p.53) -- had me tongue-tied at times, it also adds an otherworldliness to the atmosphere for this hopelessly un-accented Californian.

The cast of characters becomes wide and diverse, the possibilities intriguing, as the novel culminates. Despite a few rough spots, The Witches of Eíleanan had me absorbed by the end. I look forward to the next installment.

Copyright © 1998 by Regina Lynn Preciado

Regina Lynn Preciado writes and edits for a living. Her short-lived film career began with a role as an extra in The Empire Strikes Back: Special Edition and ended with another in The Return of the Jedi: Special Edition. She wants to be an astronaut when she grows up. Or maybe a train engineer. Want to know more?

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