Beyond a Darkened Shore by Jessica Leake
Published by HarperTeen on April 10, 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Mythology, Young Adult, Young Adult Fantasy
Length: 435 pages Source: FairyLoot
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The ancient land of Éirinn is mired in war. Ciara, Princess of Mide, has never known a time when Éirinn’s kingdoms were not battling for power, or Northmen were not plundering their shores.
The people of Mide have thankfully always been safe because of Ciara’s unearthly ability to control her enemies’ minds and actions. But lately, a mysterious crow has been appearing to Ciara, whispering warnings of an even darker threat. Although her clansmen dismiss her visions as pagan nonsense, Ciara fears this coming evil will destroy not just Éirinn, but the entire world.
Then the crow leads Ciara to Leif, a young Northman leader. Leif should be Ciara’s enemy, but when Ciara discovers that he, too, shares her prophetic visions, she knows he’s something more. Leif is mounting an impressive army, and with Ciara’s strength in battle the two might have a chance to save their world.
With evil rising around them, they’ll do what it takes to defend the land they love…even if it means making the greatest sacrifice of all.
I’d like to open this review by posing a passive-aggressive question:
Why bother setting your fantasy in a pre-created mythological world if you are going to make up all the details?
That, my loves, is the thorn in my side when it comes to Beyond a Darkened Shore. I had numerous other issues with this book – the emotional depth of the characters and the awkward passage of time, to name a few – but the blatant disregard for easily researched details astounds me. Especially in the mythology.
Early on, I comment on my Goodreads status update that someone who is not me and who does not read up on Celtic mythology for fun would enjoy this better, and I think that’s true. The trouble is, if you have the slightest bit of knowledge about Norse or Celtic mythology, the inconsistencies in this novel are clear as day… to the point of distraction. Here are a few that I caught, and these are only the ones that bothered me so much, I had to research them because I was sure they were wrong:
- Brigid (Celtic goddess of the hearth and harvest) turns into a dog… except she’s not even associated with dogs?
- Instead of referring to the water horses as the more common “kelpie,” they’re called each-uisce which is a misspelling. Should be each-uisge.
- Flidais (Celtic) is described as leader of the Wild Hunt, and one who hunts humans? No on both counts – Flidais’ mythology is actually more around cows and farming (she was mislabeled as a sort of wood nymph at one point in history, but the research has since remedied that) and the Wild Hunt itself is sort of an event between heroes and the fae-types and nothing to do with “hi I’m hunting you now, boo!”
- Fenris (Norse) is another name for Fenrir, the wolf. He shouldn’t be a giant. He is a wolf.
- At one point, another of Loki’s unfortunate spawn, Jörmungandr, is mentioned in the same breath as the giants. Also not a giant. Would have made much more sense if she’d called the giant water serpent by this name.
And on and on it goes. It vexes me, because I don’t understand why Jessica Leake didn’t just go full fantasy on this, rather than base it in pagan mythology, then go in half-heartedly and not research.
I wish the creative details were the only thing that bothered me about this book. But they weren’t. There’s so much more.
Our heroine, Ciara, has the emotional range of a teaspoon. She is changeable and uninvested in everything. There’s one point where she gets banished in the same breath as being told that her entire personal history is a lie… and what do we get? We get her basically shrugging her shoulders and running off after this guy she just met instead. There’s a line near the end of the book where Ciara says, “I can summon the dead, but I’m not dead inside.” and it KILLS me because I don’t believe her for a moment.
And that leads me to the romance. The love story is the most forced thing in the world. The hero and love interest, Leif Olafsson (I’m just thinking of the snowman from Frozen and wondering WHY that NAME) is a little more complex than Ciara, but we are constantly told everything about him. Jessica Leake excels in telling us the story, rather than letting the reader experience it. It gives the whole book a “still drafting” feel which ties in nicely with the inconsistencies in her research and is generally disappointing.
Overall, Beyond a Darkened Shore was a real bummer for me. I love mythology-based fantasy, but all the reasons I was going into this book excited failed to play out and I was left plowing through without the adventure and world building I was hoping for.
I do believe that people who are not invested in pre-conceived notions of the two mythologies will fare a lot better with this one. And if you can connect with Ciara or Lief, more’s the better!
Beyond a Darkened Shore Goes to the Graveyard.
This book was so filled with frustration and disappointment for me that I know I’m not going to re-read it and give it a second chance. I know that may seem a bit harsh, especially to people who really enjoyed this book, but at the end of the day I’m just not convinced. It was a swing and a miss and I’m sure the lovely patrons of my local library will enjoy this beautiful hardcover copy from Fairyloot.