With a mellifluous, somewhat wordy style befitting the Irish storytelling tradition ("There once was a king in Ireland who had a young queen. They had one son, and all was well and naught was ill"), Milligan (Brigid's Cloak) revisits an ancient folktale filled with challenges and quick-thinking characters. The widowed king of Ireland's new queen aims to see her own progeny-not the king's eldest son-on the throne one day. To that end, she places a "geis," or curse, on the prince, presenting him with the seemingly impossible task of stealing three magical horses from a powerful giant. The prince in turn places an equally harsh geis on his stepmother. Then, with the help of his two half-brothers and his skill for weaving a clever story, the prince succeeds and sets all to rights in the royal family. Despite colorful turns of phrase and some potential derring-do, younger readers' interest may wane during this lengthy outing, and a few will likely puzzle at the subtle plot clues leading to the prince's victory. McDaniels's (The Lighthouse Family: The Storm) watercolor-and-pencil spreads, featuring wispy lines sometimes suggestive of Trina Schart Hyman's work, wrings notes of humor and drama from the tale. Old-World dress and a rugged, unfettered countryside give the proceedings a fitting backdrop. Ages 6-10. (Mar.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Three years and a day after his first wife's death, the king of Ireland remarried She bore two sons who, she thought, should be more than just uncles of princelings. She therefore put a spell on the king's oldest son and told him to bring her the "three magic stallions that the young giant Sean O'Donal keeps at the edge of the western world." With his younger step-brothers accompanying him, the prince happens upon O'Donal's sisters and follows them back to his house. With help from a grand tale, the prince receives the stallions and "all was well and naught was ill." Milligan states in his "Author's Note" that he has written this in the style in which an Irish shanachie would tell it and so it should be read aloud. Indeed, the story has a bit of a lilt and a touch of humor in the telling. Appropriate gruesomeness is here: a toe is cut off and a wicked old giant is blinded with a red-hot pitchfork. These are simply stated in the prince's story and then he moves on. The repetition of the phrase "all was well and naught was ill" adds a marvelous connection between storyteller and listener. McDaniels has captured key scenes in his watercolor and graphite illustrations. They are full of movement and expression. This is a fine retelling of a grand adventure, where the young queen gains humility through a spell placed on her, and all three princes are happy with one another. 2003, Holiday House, Ages 5 to 9.
School Library Journal
K-Gr 4-When his stepmother thinks her husband loves his firstborn more than their twins, she gives the Prince of Ireland a geis, challenging the young man to bring her three magic stallions, or die. In return, the prince gives her a geis of his own-she must stand at the cross by the hermit's chapel with a sheaf of oats and a needle and eat only what she can pass through the needle's eye until he returns. When his half brothers hear of the curse their mother has placed on the prince, they join him in his quest. They discover that the horses must be freely given by their owner-the young giant Sean O'Donal. Luckily, the giant is more than fond of a good story, and the prince has the good fortune to tell one that stars Sean himself. So, the stallions are freely given, the princes return home, and the repentant queen is released from her curse, too. Milligan has taken a traditional Irish tale and synthesized many versions into a cohesive and delightful whole. His poetic prose demands to be read aloud with a lilt and a brogue, and comely turns of phrase ("Then all was well and naught was ill-") beg readers to join in. McDaniels's evocative illustrations, created with Russian watercolor with graphite, add charm and dimension to the book. The mood is enhanced by foreboding skies in masterly paintings. A worthy addition to any folklore collection.-Jeanne Clancy Watkins, Chester County Library, Exton, PA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
A stepmother's endeavor to give a kingdom to her own sons sends the real heir on a quest that offers another story. His stepmother lays a geis, a deadly spell, upon the eldest prince of Ireland to not sleep two nights under the same roof nor eat two meals from the same fire until he has brought her the three magic stallions that the young giant Sean O'Donal keeps at the edge of the western world. Before beginning his quest, the prince lays a geis of his own on the queen: she must stand before the high cross with a sheaf of oats in the one hand and a needle in the other and eat nothing but what comes from the sheaf of oats and passes through the eye of the needle until he returns. He and his two stepbrothers, friends that they are, set out together. They come upon the giant's sisters and hide themselves in their bundles. This gets them into the horse barn, but one of the stallions tells him that he can only go with him if the giant allows it. The prince summons the giant, but soon finds himself and the two stepsons hung from the rafters, roasting over a fire. He bargains with the giant to tell a story of a fix that was worse than this one. The three sit by the fire and the prince proceeds to tell of his rescue of a baby giant from a fierce giant; the babe proves to be none other than the giant himself. The grateful giant sends him off with the stallions and he returns home triumphant. The lilt of the language makes this fun to read, but the pastel illustrations, despite clever line and lively scenes, seem almost washed out and lack the strength of the adventure. For tellers, then, not readers. (author's source notes) (Picture book/folktale. 6-8)