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Posted November 18, 2011
Let's get one thing straight: this is *not* your average sword-and-sorcery novel set in some vague, imaginary Celtic past. Stewart-Laing and Chernicoff bring to life the politics, warfare, and daily affairs of mid-18th century Scotland with a dizzying panoply of historic detail. These authors know their facts - and their Gaelic.
But don't expect powdered wigs and David Hume. The book follows several Jacobite soldiers and civilians as they struggle against England and the Hanover monarch George II to restore the throne of Scotland and England to the exiled James Francis Edward Stuart, aka James III. (Got it?) The heroes in the book - and there are many, each one as vivid and memorable as the last - brim over with life and complexity:
-Robert Wardlaw-Maxwell, a Jacobite soldier who will risk anything to secure a safe future for his wife and children - but the help he finds in the Daione Sidhe may be far more dangerous than the English army;
-Marian Cameron, a young woman with an rare and dangerous power that she learns to push to its limits - and beyond;
-Alfred Grayson, a heady and disempowered English civil servant who gets himself into a load of trouble, including a (brief) fistfight with Bonnie Prince Charlie;
-Ina Bruce, a talented poet and propagandist who must singlehandedly persuade all Edinburgh that their new allies aren't as dangerous as they seem - in spite of evidence to the contrary.
So what's the twist? In this re-writing of history, the Scots make a treaty with the Daione Sidhe, aka the Fair Folk - yes, fairies, if you will, but think long teeth, beady eyes, and horns instead of glittering wings and tutus - that if they provide assistance in the war against England, then the Scots will release them from the ground where they've been confined against their will for aeons.
Bargains with supernatural powers are seldom without complications, and this one quickly proves to be no exception. The Daione Sidhe are neither good nor evil: they live according to their nature, and this sometimes means hunting humans like mice and drinking their blood. It's not long before the humans remember why they imprisoned them underground in the first place.
I really can't recommend this book highly enough. It's a quick but satisfying read, and the pace is relentless.
And if you're not convinced yet: "Forgotten Gods" features some of the best talking cats since Bulgakov's "Master and Margarita." I'm quite the connoisseur of talking cats, so believe me, I do not say this lightly.