Patricia Kennealy-Morrison, Blackmantle (HarperPrism, 1997)

It is Earth year 1650, twelve centuries after Brendan the Astrogator led the Gaels forth from Earth to found Keltia. The Kelts are without a ruler, the last monarch having died without an heir. While the nobles wrangle about the succession, the Fir Bolg slip back into Keltia and settle in.

Athyn Cahanagh was born on a battlefield to a dying warrior. Rescued by Cormac mac Archill, she is raised as his own daughter. But she is no common orphan, but destined to drive forth the Fir Bolg and become Keltia's next queen.

Morric Douglas is a bard, trained at Seren Beirdd. Athyn falls in love with his music the first time she hears it, played by another. When she and Morric are finally introduced at a celebration of Samhain, sparks fly -- quite literally.

Amzalsunea Dalgarno is an Incomer (a Fir Bolg). Known by the Keltic name Melassaun, she is the one-time lover of Morric Douglas. And when she cannot keep him, she makes sure that no other will.

The novel begins with Athyn's birth on the battlefield, her early years, growth and training to become both a soldier and a judge. Although she has magical gifts, her dying mother forbade Cormac to have her trained in their uses. Later, Athyn is tapped to lead the rebellion against the Fir Bolg and with Morric at her side, accomplishes the withdrawal of the Incomers. She and Morric become Queen and King of Keltia. And then Morric's old lover Amzalsunea summons him to her side and he cannot resist trying to help her, for old times' sake, if nothing more. And though Athyn warns him that Amzalsunea will be the death of him, he does not listen.

Athyn is right. After Morric's death, she begins a campaign of vengeance, killing everyone who ever wronged Morric, ending with Amzalsunea herself. And then, using her great magical gifts, Athyn goes into the Otherworld after Morric, to win him back from death itself.

Blackmantle is the seventh book in the popular Keltiad series by Patricia Kennealy-Morrison. This is a stand-alone novel, set approximately 2,000 years before the events recounted in The Copper Crown, and like Aeron, the main character of that novel, Athyn is of the Aoibhell family, though she does not at first know it.

The events of Blackmantle will not be familiar to anyone who knows nothing about the author, Patricia Kennealy-Morrison. Those who do, however, will immediately see the parallels between the tale of Athyn and Morric and the events that took place between Kennealy-Morrison and Jim Morrison of The Doors whom she privately wed the year before his death. If you have also read Kennealy-Morrison's Strange Days: My Life With and Without Jim Morrison, the story takes on an eerie overtone of reality. This is plainly the tale of the author's own great love, but she has said that it is the privilege of every writer to cannibalize his or her own life for creative fodder. The fates meted out to Athyn's enemies are rather obviously what Kennealy-Morrison would like to do to her own enemies (including Oliver Stone!). Although it is a powerful story, it would perhaps have been all the more powerful had it been more heavily veiled. Having already read Strange Days and having watched The Doors, I found myself imagining Val Kilmer and Meg Ryan as Morric and Amzalsunea, which was very distracting.

The story runs from adventure through romance to adventure and back to romance at the end. Kennealy-Morrison's writing is, as ever, lyrical and romantic, well-suited to the tale that she is telling. Half the joy of reading her books is savoring her writing style. Despite the above criticism about the storyline itself, Blackmantle was still enjoyable and is a strong addition to the growing Keltiad.

[ by Laurie Thayer ]

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