Morgan Llywelyn,
Finn MacCool
(Tor, 1994)

Come! Meet a Celtic hero from the romantic past of Ireland. It's in the kingdom of Tara we'll be as we read Finn MacCool, Morgan LLywelyn's book about a young man with a gift for leadership.

Finn is a mere lad, a newly appointed captain of warriors in the service of King Cormac, when we first meet him. He is traveling with one of the groups in his command, a band on patrol duty. They guard the borders and the shorelines against the raiders and pillagers that come from the sea. Finn, whose father once commanded the entire Fianna, the standing army of Tara, is brash and boastful to impress and awe his recruits. He is always the hero of his own bardic tales.

Listening to Finn, Goll Mac Morna, an older man whom Finn has supplanted, is irritated and unhappy. The younger men find joy in the tales and they listen with shining eyes. They like the element of magic that makes them shiver and look over their shoulders. The literal-minded Goll grumbles but he admits to himself that the magic is in the discipline, the demanding physical training, the tracking lessons and the insistence on excellence that Finn demands. As for Finn, he will follow in his father's footsteps. He will lead the Fianna and he will become the king's trusted friend. All this, he promises himself. It is not surprising that Goll is the thorn in Finn's foot. To be fair, he will turn out to be a demanding father figure, a conscience and a teacher, but they will never be friends.

Llywelyn creates another strong figure in the High King, Cormac. He worries that Finn will press for ever more privileges. He will want land, cattle, horses and well-born wives. He weighs the cost of the peace and prosperity that the Fianna create in Tara and he knows he is going to pay it. But there is always a time when Finn goes too far. Trouble arises over a young bride who is, unfortunately, the daughter of the king.

To tell more would be tempting, but I cannot spill the beans about the way things fall out. I recommend highly this riveting tale of courage, loyalties and adventure. It is a densely-written, action-rich and character-rich hero story. Tara was so idyllic, I hated to leave it.

[ by Jean Marchand ]
Rambles: 11 October 2002

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