I approached Eirelan's near 800 pages with some trepidation. As a Member Giveaway paperback win at LibraryThing I knew I would feel obligated to complete it and make an assessment, however it felt like a book I may be interested in and I hoped it wouldn't be a chore.
I need not have been concerned; Eirelan is a fabulous page turner, epic in scope, beautifully crafted and skillfully structured to maintain the reader's attention.
It takes an enormous leap of imagination though to pitch a story 4000 years in the future and make it completely devoid of any science fiction. In fact O'Shiel has written a medieval drama and by setting it in a future era so far away from any scope of existing expectations he has cleverly avoided being burdened by any need for historical references which may bear scrutiny. We hear vaguely of 'the age of machines' yet it is left entirely to the reader to interpret how or when catastrophe fell and a new world order emerged which resembled that which we hear of in history books. Eirelan is a country we know as Ireland which is partitioned into The Province, a rural, heathen, haven, and the world outside its ramparts made up of crumbling cities to which the old Church still holds sway.
Once you get past some oddly fanciful scene setting of nautical terminology, cosy games of poker, pub lunches, Irish stew, and pints of stout, you are thrown into a world of warriors, clans, and feuds, families and lovers, politics, and fierce battles on land and at sea.
Belief suspended, the story telling comes to the fore and O'Shiel creates characters to believe in, varied and complex, human and troubled, real and easy to relate to and come to know.
The people of The Province have endured attacks for centuries which have reached a critical point at which survival of their way of life is threatened for good. Concurrent battles need to be fought and won against foes at home and abroad, and for which old adversaries are needed to be become allies to withstand the onslaught from common enemies. O'Shiel uses a deep knowledge of maritime matters to good effect without alienating a reader rooted to the land and whose only experience of the sea around Eirelan is the 'vomit comet' trips from Holyhead to Dublin, 1960s style.
In O'Shiel's Eirelan women and men are equal in the family, in politics and in armed service. It is the women in the main that command the warships, and women fight skillfully and doggedly amongst the Blades and the Bows. No guns here, only swords, armour, pikes, maces, and arrows which are used to brutal effect.
The stories and relationships within the story are well woven and flow seamlessly such that it would be easy to imagine Eirelan as a blockbuster movie or serious TV drama series.
At no point in the near 800 pages did I find myself struggling or wishing the book to end, indeed I am looking forward to the author's promised second installment and to enjoying the company of Connor, Oran, Feth, Mairan, Aideen, and their families, friends and comrades once again.