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Knockabeg: A Famine Tale

Knockabeg: A Famine Tale

by Mary E. Lyons

The mortals of Knockabeg have suffered through potato famines before, but never one caused by a Destruction Curse. Now the selfish faeries hold the fate of the village in their wee hands. Only they can defeat the silver-winged enemies who laid the curse. Armed with sky-nets and darts, the Trooping Ones gallop through the clouds to do battle. All except Sticky.


The mortals of Knockabeg have suffered through potato famines before, but never one caused by a Destruction Curse. Now the selfish faeries hold the fate of the village in their wee hands. Only they can defeat the silver-winged enemies who laid the curse. Armed with sky-nets and darts, the Trooping Ones gallop through the clouds to do battle. All except Sticky.
The eccentric, unpredictable Sticky has other plans. A member of the Queen’s High Council and faery guardian to an eleven-year-old boy, she stays behind to weave her dreams of luxury and revenge. Yet the truth is, none of us, even faeries, knows what the morrow will bring. We think it is ours to command, then it turns and sticks out its tongue. And isn’t that just the way of it?
Against a wild Celtic background of sea and sky, Mary E. Lyons tells a captivating story of magic, high adventure, and the tricky ways of love.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Lyons's (Dear Ellen Bee: A Civil War Scrapbook of Two Union Spies) story set during the Irish potato famine mixes in fantastic creatures, Gaelic and faery words and a not quite omniscient narrator. These are clever embellishments, but the author develops too many characters, settings and story lines to keep straight. The queen of the Trooping Ones (the faeries that live in Knockabeg) declares war on the ne'er-do-well Nuckelavees when she discovers that they have put a curse on the potato vines of West Isle. Because the Trooping Ones need a mortal to fight beside them (and to feed them), she asks the rebellious Sticky to kidnap the human boy she guards. Sticky mysteriously defies orders, staying with the boy, Eamon, while his family and Sticky starve. Readers will have to pay attention to the clues Lyons plants in the narrative to discover Sticky's secret. The action shifts between (and often intersects) both worlds, detailing the impact of famine on the human community as well as the wounded faeries' war stories when they return to heal the residents of Knockabeg. The chapters frequently end philosophically ("Aye, ofttimes love is more powerful than fear or lost dreams or anything else in the world. Even hunger"), but readers will have to digest so many details about the world Lyons creates that they likely won't develop connections with faeries or mortals. Hence, potentially emotional scenes, such as Eamon's reunion with his dead family members in the faery world, don't deliver much impact. The final battle between the Trooping Ones and the Nuckelavees is equally anticlimactic. Ages 10-14. (Aug.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
If it's an Irish experience ye'd be wanting, then pull a creepy (three-legged stool) to the peat fire and listen as the seanchai (storyteller) spins this tale of how bad faeries caused the nineteenth-century potato blight while good faeries fought them. The Nuckelavees, the baddies, live in a smokestack in East Isle, which they have ruined with their wickedness. They want to take over the rural West Isle from the goodies, called the Trooping Ones, and the humans, both good and bad, who live there. So Nuckelavees blight the potato crop, causing death and destruction. Reluctantly, the Trooping Ones go to war against the Nuckelavees, hoping to save all. According to the Laws of Trooping Faery Physics, these faeries cannot fight without a mortal at their side nor eat unless fed by mortals. So they whisk ten-year-old Eamon of Knockabeg, whose father has recently drowned and whose family is starving, to help them in battle. He proves himself brave and skillful, and the baddies are set back temporarily. Far from trivializing the tragedy of the Irish potato famine, the story brings it into focus by depicting children going to bed with growing hunger, adults wasting away, and a village with insufficient coffins to bury its dead. Historical detail is woven in neatly, with villagers subsiding on boiled seaweed and beetle larva from creeks and two hundred children crowding a schoolhouse because food had been promised. The story is full of Irishisms and requires a glossary for some Gaelic words and faery expressions. One can hear the storyteller's brogue. This book is great fun for faery lovers, with a history lesson to boot. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasionallapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2001, Houghton Mifflin, 128p, $15. Ages 11 to 15. Reviewer: Florence H. Munat
Children's Literature
The hardships and horror of the Irish famine are awkwardly blended into this tale of the warring Wee Ones. The Nuckelavees, a band of evil fairies, have placed a Destruction Curse on the potato crop of West Isle. If the mortals sicken and die they will leave Knockabeg and the Trooping Ones will be without their source of food. The Queen of the Trooping Ones declares war and depends on Jam, Mungo and Wicks to lead the battles. Because they need a mortal to fight with them, the Queen sends the enigmatic Sticky to guard the boy, Eamon. Sticky, however, has plans of her own for Eamon. Exiled by the Nuckelavees, Sticky has until Mid Summer's Eve to return a mortal to the Chief and reverse her punishment. Her selfish motives are soon tested when she finds she has grown fond of the boy and must try to protect him from harm. Told in the voice of the seanchai (storyteller) this wandering fantasy of magic, trickery and the power of love with its heavy Irish brogue and use of Gaelic will leave many readers confused. The juxtaposition of the harsh descriptions of the bitter famine with the selfish fairy war are jarring. The scope of the tale is such that it is difficult to sustain continuity. Lyons has two very good stories here but they do not meld into a cohesive whole. 2001, Houghton Mifflin, $15.00. Ages 10 to 14. Reviewer: Beverley Fahey
School Library Journal
Gr 5-7-The Nuckelavees "live only to create a wicked world where they can feel at home." Having already destroyed the East Isle, these faeries now have their sights set on the West Isle (Ireland). At a meeting of the Trooping Faeries, the Queen, with her advisors Sticky, Wink, Mungo, and Jam close by, declares war on the Nuckelavees, who are causing the potatoes to wither and rot in the ground. The Queen explains to her subjects that if the crops fail, the mortals will die or abandon the town of Knockabeg, leaving the faeries to go hungry. However, according to Faery Laws, they can only fight with a mortal by their side. She has picked a young boy to accompany them to Frog Leg Island but Sticky has other plans for Eamon. Magical steeds, invisible caps, spiderweb blankets, and Leprechauns do not make this a light tale of magic. Don't expect an entirely happy ending in this story, which includes some gruesome descriptions of the effects of the potato famine on the mortals of Knockabeg. Wisps of humor do little to brighten this tale. Readers will need the glossary to interpret the narrative as the storyteller (a seancha') uses a strong, if uneven, Irish brogue sprinkled with Gaelic. The author's note adds some authority to this sometimes wandering fantasy.-Kit Vaughan, Midlothian Middle School, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An author of historical fiction and nonfiction tries her hand in the faery world. The Good People or Trooping Faeries declare war on their enemies when they discover the evil Nuckelavees' plan to take over all of Ireland by ruining the potato crop. Without potatoes as a food source, the mortal families won't have food to leave out for the faeries, the humans and faeries will starve, and both will have to abandon the land to the Nuckelavees. Lyons's human and spirit characters have distinct personalities, which serve to invest readers in caring about the survival of the faeries in the various battle scenes. Most interesting of all is Sticky, an oddly mysterious faery who is revealed to be an evil Solitary One serving out a five-year punishment among the Good People. She holds the fate of both the Trooping Faeries and the mortal family she loves in her hands, and not until the somewhat suspenseful end do readers discover whether Sticky will do the right thing. Narrated by a seanchai-Gaelic for "storyteller"-this contains many colloquial expressions, some of which are defined in the glossary. Try giving this to lovers of historical fiction or fantasy; paired with Patricia Reilly Giff's Nory Ryan's Song (2000), readers will gain another perspective on the 19th-century's Irish potato famine. (glossary, laws of Trooping Faeries physics, author's note) (Fiction. 9-12)

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.81(d)
Age Range:
10 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

The author of fifteen books for young readers, Mary Lyons lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with her husband, Paul. Her grandfather was born in Ireland in 1869, in a place much like Knockabeg.

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