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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Sylvia Spruck Wrigley: "Domnall and the Borrowed Child"

Author:  Sylvia Spruck Wrigley  
Title:  "Domnall and the Borrowed Child" 
Plot Type:  Fantasy 
Ratings:  Violence2; Sensuality2; Humor—2   
Publisher:  Tor (11/10/2015)


     The best and bravest faeries fell in the war against the  sluagh, and now the Council is packed with idiots and cowards. Domnall is old, aching, and as cranky as they come, but as much as he'd like to retire, he's the best scout the Sithein court has left. 

     When a fae child falls deathly ill, Domnall knows he's the only one who can get her the medicine she needs: Mother's milk. The old scout will face cunning humans, hungry wolves, and uncooperative sheep, to say nothing of his fellow fae!

     This novella is set in the Scottish fairy world. These fairies are not cute little winged creatures. They are small, non-flying "people" who walk on two legs. Unfortunately, Wrigley provides no other specific details about their physical appearance. In fact, the author provides almost no world-building at all. For the benefit of readers unfamiliar with Celtic fairy mythology, here is a glossary of terms that will help you better understand the story:

   > Brownies are tiny, wrinkled, hairy creatures who inhabit houses of humans and aid in tasks around the house. However, they do not like to be seen and will work only at night, traditionally in exchange for small gifts of food, like porridge and honey. In this story, they don't get along well with the fairies.

   > A changeling is a fairy child who is left in the place of a human child stolen by fairies. The changeling is enchanted so that he or she looks like the stolen human child.   

   > The Cu Sith are mythological hounds that look like huge, dark green wolves. In most mythologies, they are harbingers of death, but in this story, they guard the entrance to the fairy mound.

   > Fairy revel and fairy ring: A revel is a fairy dance with sexual overtones that takes place in a fairy ring. If a human stumbles into a fairy ring during a revel, he or she becomes enchanted and is then transported into the fairy world, sometimes forever. In some folktales, humans who step into fairy ringseven empty onesbecome invisible to other humans and can never escape from the ring.

   > The sluagh (aka the Fairy Host) are the restless spirits of the dead and are considered to be troublesome and destructive. They fly in groups like flocks of birds and attempt to enter a house where someone is dying to take the soul away with them. They are considered to be the most fierce and terrifying of all the fairy peoples. As this story opens, the fairies are recovering from heavy losses after a major war with the sluagh.
   > A Sithein (aka sithean, sidhein, sith) is an underground fairy "city" (aka knoll, knowe, mound).

     Although there is a slender plot, this is more of a character sketch than a story. The main character—Domnallis an elderly fairy, one of the only competent warriors to survive the war with the sluagh. "The best and the bravest fought the sluagh like cornered she-wolves. All that was left was skulkers afraid for their own skin." Now, the Sithein is being run by a Council of Elders who live in fear of their enemies. Domnall despises the new, cautious, fearful way of life that the Elders have forced on him, and he longs for the good old days: "The fledgling fae were coddled and fussed over and the Elders obsessed about the dangers of the world and no one went out except him. He was too sore and too tired and too ancient to be doing all the...scouting for the Sithein, while the younger scouts warmed their hands by the kitchen fires and peeked out past the Cu Sith every now and again." Unfortunately, Domnall makes no secret of his feelings, and he has alienated many people. His only friend is Tam (who may be based on the mythological hero named Tam Lin, but since we learn nothing about his personal history, I may be wrong on that).

     Even with his outspoken ways, Domnall has lots of skills and experience, so when a fairy child named Nighean becomes ill and needs the milk of a human mother, Maeve (who, in this story, is in charge of the nursery) sends him off to exchange Nighean for a human child. They plan to leave Nighean in the humans' home for a week or two and then swap the babies back again. Nighean wears an amulet that makes her look just like the human child. As all sorts of complications arise, Domnall grumbles his way through them with the assistance of a young female named Micol, who is training to be a scout. 

     This is a feather-light story with a straightforward story line (even with all the complications). Only Domnall's character is truly fleshed out, although Wrigley spends some time showing us that Maeve is equally as grumpy as Domnall. Although it's an O.K. story, I honestly have to say that I don't think it is worth $8.99 for the 112-page paperback or $6.61 for the audible version. Even $2.99 for the e-book seems high to me. (Note: These are all prices.) This is the sort of novella that authors frequently write as an offshoot of of an ongoing series that already has an extensive mythology in place. It really doesn't work as a stand-alone bereft of world-building details.

     Click HERE and scroll down just a bit to read an excerpt from "Domnall and the Borrowed Child." The author has two fairy-related posts on the Tor website. Click HERE to read her tongue-in-cheek list entitled "Five Ways to Piss Off the Fair Folk." Click HERE for read her review of "Five Modern Books with Bad-Ass Fairies." 

     If you enjoy stories about fae living in the modern world, rather than in Medieval times, here are some recommendations. First and foremost is Seanan McGuire's long-running OCTOBER DAYE SERIES. And then, there's the anthology The Modern Fae's Guide to Surviving HumanityAnother modern-world fae series is Lilith Saintcrowe's GALLOW AND RAGGED SERIES. And don't forget Kelley Armstrong's terrific CAINSVILLE SERIES.

FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of "Domnall and the Borrowed Child" is based on an electronic advance reading copy (ARC) of the book that I received from the publisher through Netgalley. I received no promotional or monetary rewards, and the opinions in this review are strictly my own.

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