Book review of S.L. Farrell’s Holder of Lightning
Prior to picking up Holder of Lightning, I was understandably skeptical, this being my first adventure in Celtic fiction. I decided to give it a chance only because S.L. Farrell was one of the authors recommended by George R.R. Martin in his latest update on the release date of A Dance with Dragons. I have in the past taken a liking to historical fiction, even if it was more Latin-based than Irish. Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay was a tremendous book, with character and setting names deeply rooted in Italian and Latin. I may just have a tendency to lean in that direction however, having taken 4 years of French in high school and speaking Portuguese on a daily basis now, both Latin-based languages.
If using Irish-based language, characters and settings were the goals of Holder of Lightning, then they were accomplished in spades. I found myself saying a lot of the words out loud upon first read, just to get a sense of how they should sound. The book also contains rich appendices filled with language and culture definitions. You can’t say that Farrell didn’t do his homework.
There is a healthy dosage of magic in this book, even overdone at times. If you’re into more realistic historical fiction, I would caution you to stay away. The treatment of magic was eerily similar to the classic Raistlin Majere syndrome: character uses up magic reserves, must seek solace in herbal tea to recoup.
The settings are vast. From the small town beginnings, to high court intrigue, to a few sea and land voyages, Holder of Lightning has them all. While it was refreshing once Jenna, the main character, finally decided to set off on a cross-country journey about halfway through this roughly six-hundred-pager, it was refreshing only because the attempt at court politics preceding fell so bland. A lot of the plots were predictable, and the dialog fairly sub-par. When you’ve seen how multifaceted complex situations can shine in such novels as the Song of Ice and Fire series, the dialog in Holder of Lightning can only be judged as falling a little short.
Unfortunately the pace went hand in hand with the dialog issues. I felt the novel became stagnant until the characters decided to make a major setting shift about halfway through the book. The pace definitely picked up from the midway mark through the finish, but by that point I had lost some of my excitement and feel the second half didn’t do enough to make up for it.
There is a healthy cast of characters here, and this is where S.L. Farrell really shines. The character development, like the setting and world-building, is on par with any other genre fantasy novel. Like I stated, I haven’t read any other Celtic fiction, so I don’t have a good basis for comparison within this specific niche, but comparatively with other historical fiction this is a job well done. Unfortunately, as well defined as the characters are, they suffer from the aforementioned dialog issues, and I found a lot of their actions to be either somewhat predictable, and in some cases overdone and obvious.
One formatting issue I don’t like is when maps are interspersed throughout the text. I find that if I want to go back and look at a specific map, I’ll be flipping through page after page when I could have easily located the map if it were at the front or back of the book. I understand authors may not want to reveal certain maps until certain points are reached in the book, but I feel that in this case the map should be placed at the back of the book and some type of notification made either at the beginning of the book or referenced in the text as a footnote if making the reader aware of a certain map is that important to the flow of the plot.
Overall I think this is a healthy first shot at a historical fiction for S.L. Farrell. While there were certain areas like dialog and pace that could use a lot of improvement, there is definitely potential here that I believe, if the author is truly dedicated, could make the following novels really shine. Holder of Lightninig just had a rough time getting off the ground.
You can purchase Holder of Lightning over at Amazon.com.