I read ‘The Shee’ by Joe Donnelly because it was recommended and sent to me by a friend (thanks Phil!). In terms of premise, it’s the sort of story I’d write, and indeed my first novel, Andraste’s Blade, isn’t a million miles away in terms of broad theme.
The story is about an evil ancient Irish goddess (The Morrigan) who was imprisoned during the Celtic period. She is freed by archaeologists and the force of nature to do her evil and spread chaos in the modern day.
The novel has a 1980’s ‘feel’ to it, which isn’t surprising as it was published in 1992. There are a lot of viewpoint characters each having their own mini-story which was common thirty years ago, while now the trend is to focus more deeply on a very small number of individuals. The date made it seem almost historical fiction, without internet or mobile phones and with outdated archaeological techniques. Rather than detract from the story, that made it a refreshing read. From an author’s viewpoint, it was good to read about an isolated group of characters where the writer didn’t have to come up with convoluted ideas for everyone losing access to mobile phones – because there weren’t any.
I liked the characterisation. Considering there were so many people to keep track of, Donnelly managed to make each strong, memorable and individual, and I had no problem remembering who was who. The characterisation was a highlight.
Another highlight was the setting. I don’t know western Ireland, but Donnelly convinced me he does and I was able to imagine myself in the picturesque coastal village of Kilgallan. Combined together, the exquisite characterisation and setting made the story one that was easy to slip into.
There were, though, a couple of things that didn’t work for me. Firstly, in a book of over five hundred pages it took a long time for the story to reach a climax. That’s not a massive problem because the build-up, getting to know the characters, sub-plots and growing inter-relationships, were enjoyable. Despite that it could have been paced a little quicker, especially as the climax was relatively short.
Secondly, the outcome hung on one of the characters being the same as a Celtic Irish Celtic hero, and this wasn’t explained or justified anywhere. As part of a plot it was fine and worked, but I felt I needed to be told how and why. For me, that was too big a problem for the novel to carry, and at the end it did take my enjoyment and made it a good read rather than a great one.
So, this is a book with some drawbacks. Despite that, it’s a fun romp through horror and well worth authors reading it for the lessons in characterisation and maintaining interest.