cover image KNOCKABEG: A Famine Tale

KNOCKABEG: A Famine Tale

Mary E. Lyons, . . Houghton, $15 (128pp) ISBN 978-0-618-09283-3

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.)