ARC Review: The Children of Gods and Fighting Men by Shauna Lawless

Today’s review is about THE CHILDREN OF GODS AND FIGHTING MEN by Shauna Lawless. This is the first book in a historical fantasy series. It’s immersive and mixes real-life history with Irish mythology as Celtic and Viking culture mesh together.

Author: Shauna Lawless
Series: Gael Song, #1
Age Category: Adult
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publish Date: September 1, 2022
Print Length: 416

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Official Synopsis

The first in a gripping new historical fantasy series that intertwines Irish mythology with real-life history, The Children of Gods and Fighting Men is the thrilling debut novel by Shauna Lawless.

They think they’ve killed the last of us…

981 AD. The Viking King of Dublin is dead. His young widow, Gormflaith, has ambitions for her son–and herself–but Ireland is a dangerous place and kings tend not to stay kings for long. Gormflaith also has a secret. She is one of the Fomorians, an immortal race who can do fire-magic. She has kept her powers hidden at all costs, for there are other immortals in this world–like the Tuatha Dé Danann, a race of warriors who are sworn to kill Fomorians. Fódla is one of the Tuatha Dé Danann with the gift of healing. Her kind dwell hidden in a fortress, forbidden to live amongst the mortals. Fódla agrees to help her kin by going to spy on Brian Boru, a powerful man who aims to be High King of Ireland. She finds a land on the brink of war–a war she is desperate to stop. However, preventing the loss of mortal lives is not easy with Ireland in turmoil and the Fomorians now on the rise…

My Review

I received a free, digital, advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. My review is my own and reflects my honest opinion about this book.

THE CHILDREN OF GODS AND FIGHTING MEN is a superb novel that weaves history and Irish mythology into a cunning game of political maneuvering. Told from two female points of view, the reader follows the immortals Gormflaith and Fódla over a span of nearly 20 years in 10th century Ireland. Gormflaith, one of the last of the Fomorians, will do anything to ensure her mortal son stays king. Fódla, one of the Tuatha Dé Danann who hunt and kill Fomorians, will do anything to protect her sister’s son. Set in a time period of political uncertainty as Irish and Viking cultures slowly amalgamate, the Fomorians seek to integrate and rule the land while the Tuatha Dé Danann continue to distance themselves from the violence of men.

I loved the assemblage of true historical events with fantasy elements. At the end of the book the author explains that a lot of the names and events actually happened. She took some liberties with the timeline and names to push events closer together and avoid name repetition. But I found this created a believable and atmospheric vibe true to the time because of the historical records available for incorporation. Though I don’t know much about Irish mythology or medieval Irish history, this book made me inspired to learn more.

The political chess game also really drew me in. It’s been a while since I read a book that included this much foresight by characters. Though they’re based off of real people, records can only tell us so much and cannot fully portray their personalities. I felt that the author really put a lot of thought into how to depict Gormflaith and Fódla in their respective situations. Although the cultures are very clearly patriarchal, Lawless writes two very strong women. Gormflaith appears more outwardly strong and intent while Fódla has a quiet strength that she grows into throughout the story.

Because the Tuatha Dé Danann have sworn to kill all Fomorians, the Fomorians do what they can to survive. This means no magic, integrate with the mortals, and breed. As a result Gormflaith’s early life is as a pawn in her mother’s machinations to keep the Fomorian race alive. But once her mother dies, Gormflaith puts all of her energy into ensuring her mortal son’s safety. She wants to make sure he won’t have to bend to another’s whim by planning his ascendance as king.

The Tuatha Dé Danann, however, want nothing to do with the mortals. They seem them as a violent race hellbent on war and death. They believe this so strongly that they implemented laws forbidding living among mortals and interfering with their squabbles. But when the Tuatha Dé Danann cast out Fódla’s sister, Ronnan, for lying with a mortal, Fódla begins to question whether their laws are fair. Fódla’s task to spy on King Brian introduces her to a side of humanity not frequently described by her kin. That is, not all men are cruel and not all men want war. Some men are honorable and brutally passionate about bringing peace to their land. This makes Fódla reevaluate what she knows and was taught about humankind.

Though I would have appreciated more descriptions of the magic system, there’s enough history and displays of magic to get the gist. Since this is the first book in a series, I have no doubt we’ll learn more as the story progresses. If you’re familiar with Irish mythology you may have a more informed idea of the history of these magical races. I, however, shall be pleasantly surprised as it unfolds.

I don’t feel my review does this book justice even though I enjoyed it (and read it fairly quickly relative to recent reads). But at its heart THE CHILDREN OF GODS AND FIGHTING MEN is about making the world a better place for the survival of one’s family. Not everyone agrees on the right way to accomplish this, whether it’s by raiding and conquering, brokering peace treaties, retreating to prejudice and isolationism, or integrating with other races and cultures. In some cases, it’s about holding on to one’s culture in a rapidly changing world.

Rating: 4.5
Content warnings: murder, blood
Reading format: Kindle e-book

For additional thoughts about THE CHILDREN OF GODS AND FIGHTING MEN, check out reviews by Out of this World SFF, Days in Other Worlds, and FanFiAddict.

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