Patricia Kennealy-Morrison, The Deer's Cry (HarperPrism, 1998)

Legend tells of the monk Brendan, called the Navigator, who sailed from Ireland and landed on many wondrous islands. Some say that he even discovered North America centuries before Columbus. What they don't tell us is that Brendan did not sail the earthly sea, but the vast spaces between the stars, and the islands he landed on were not islands in the ocean, but distant planets, nor was he called the Navigator, but the Astrogator. Nor do the legends mention the cause of Brendan's voyage, Patraic mac Calprin, latterly known as St. Patrick, the worst thing to ever happen to Ireland.

This is the premise of The Deer's Cry, the eighth book in Patricia Kennealy-Morrison's popular Keltiad. Since this is chronologically the first book of the series, fans will already know the basic framework of the story. Twenty-two thousand years ago, the Danaans came to Earth from a distant star gone nova and established the city of Atlantis. When that city was destroyed, the Danaans fled to Ireland (Eruinn), where they lived in peace until the arrival of the Gaels. Eventually, those two races settled down to live together and Brendan Aoibhell was one of the results. He was the son of Fergus, the human lord of Fanad, and his Danaan wife, Nia the Golden.

The story begins with Brendan's meeting with a young slave who, though at first his friend, will eventually become his bitterest enemy. At first the two merely spar verbally about their religious differences, for although Brendan follows the "Shan-vallachta" or Old Ways, his new friend is a Christling, a follower of the new religion but four centuries old. There comes a time, however, when Brendan decides that everyone would be better off if he just helps Patraic escape from Ireland. And thus is set in motion a chain of events that will eventually lead to the founding of Keltia among the stars, for Patraic does not stay out of Eruinn, as Brendan had hoped, but returns determined to convert the entire island to his religion.

Despite opposition from Brendan, the Danaans and the High King, Patraic gains ground and converts. At last, under Brendan's leadership, the decision is made to flee Eruinn and return to the stars, using the technology intertwined with magic that brought the Danaans to Earth in the first place. On their journey, the newly-named Kelts find new friends, new enemies -- and very old enemies.

This is the first book of the Keltiad in which Kennealy-Morrison, herself a high priestess of a Celtic pagan tradition, has allowed herself to go into any great detail about a subject on which she must surely have deep feelings, the differences (and similarities!) between Christianity and paganism. Her Patraic is a bigot, with no tolerance whatsoever for anything that is not Christian. To him, the Danaans are soulless, evil creatures to be destroyed. He even attempts to destroy Brendan's mother Nia by handing her food and wine that he has blessed in the name of his God. When she does not disappear in a puff of smoke, he assumes not that she could possibly be good, but that her evil is too strong for mere blessed food to harm her.

Patraic is not merely a one dimensional villain, however. There is a reason for his hatred of the Old Ways, and a surprising twist to his origin -- although it only makes sense if you sit down to think about it.

As with the other books in the series, appendices are included which contain glossaries of Keltic terms, places and characters. Pronunciations are included for some of the more difficult words, though many have been at least partially Anglicized.

The book is divided in two parts. The first half moves much more slowly than the second, as events pile one on top of another inexorably leading to the decision to take ship. The journey itself, with the landing on Tara, the founding of Caerdroia and all the other events that take place seems much skimpier, and could easily have been a book unto itself with more attention given to details.

The Deer's Cry would be an excellent place for someone new to the series to start. No knowledge of previous books is necessary to enjoy the story. Although there is some foreshadowing of future events, it is more along the lines of "but that is another story." Fans of the Keltiad will also enjoy knowing the story behind the founding of Keltia.

[ by Laurie Thayer ]

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