About the book
“Nothing is unconquerable; even our gods can die.”
Brennus is destined from birth to become a warrior, despite his farmer’s life. But when the Hillmen kill his family and annihilate his clan, he now has the opportunity to avenge those whom he loved.
Brennus must survive endless hordes of invading Hillmen and magic-wielding sidhe, aided by only a band of shifty mercenaries, and an ancient bronze sword.
Failure means his family and clan go unavenged. Victory will bring glory to Brennus and his ancestors.
Hag of the Hills is a heroic fantasy novel set in 200 B.C. on the Isle of Skye, steeped in Celtic mythology and culture.
19 year old Brennus lives on the isle of Skye around the year 200 B.C. He’d love to follow in his deceased father’s footsteps, traveling the world as a warrior, but his older brother wants him to marry and settle on Skye to look after the family farm.
His future seems set, until an invading force turns his world upside down, and now Brennus has the life of a warrior thrust upon him, and a family to avenge.
An exciting slice of life adventure for those interested in ancient history.
This book opens with a quote from the Táin bó Cuailnge, and as someone who grew up in the shadow of the Cooley mountains and lives in the land of Cú Chulainn, that made me immensely happy.
Ryder is an archeologist, and it shows in his loving recreation of the time period. No one can say what it was like back then, but the author has meticulously crafted a believable world from historical finds, records from other nations, and knowledge of human nature. I love how he depicts the characters to be learned, well travelled, and aware of what’s going on in the lands far from Skye. I found this to be realistic, yet something that is so often left out of other historical fiction.
The author also presents the pagan world in all its brutality. Life is cheap. Slaves and human sacrifice are parts of normal life. People would rather kill themselves than fall to the hands of the invaders. Women are rounded up and given to the warriors before they go into battle (although I was surprised the women weren’t being used in battle too. Perhaps it was only the Irish who sent their women ahead into battle).
However, the characters are human, so there are friendships and relationships. Not all women are used for sex. This is most clearly seen in the druids, the ruling class, where their wives and daughters are protected and educated.
The first half of this captivated my interest from page one. I loved following Brennus as he went about his day to day life, before a series of strange events diverts the path of his life onto a new direction. The story is told through an older Brennus recounting his life to a bard in order to keep his history, and I loved this element as it felt authentic to the oral tradition of the Celts, and gave Brennus a very convincing voice.
Full of excitement, magic, and narrative drive, the first 50 or 60% of the book held my interest and I was ready to rush to Amazon and buy the rest of the books in the series upon completion. I was particularly excited when the character of Myrnna entered the tale. The daughter of a druid, and trained by druids, she is an intriguing character with lots of promise. Brennus is tasked with protecting her, and I looked forward to seeing what kind of relationship would develop between them.
I also loved the frequent appearance of preternatural entities, who either wished the characters outright harm, or offered them deals for a price.
There are plenty of great dog characters as well, and a couple of nice horse ones too.
Unfortunately, the narrative drive dries up in the second half of the book. Brennus and Myrnna fall in with some mercenaries and, while interesting at first, the interaction quickly becomes predictable and repetitive. Despite being an important character to the plot, Myrnna receives no development beyond her introduction. Brennus falls into a cycle of fights and desire to avenge his family, until the story abruptly ends.
Ancient epics are full of feisty female characters, either beguiling heroes with their magic and smarts, or using same to save their lives. I’ve no idea why Myrnna had no character, despite being a pivotal part of the tale, when the author so ably showed the diverse role of women in the first half of the book.
While the second half stagnates, it will be of interest to those looking for an historical slice of life for ancient times. The food, clothes, hunting, and fight training are all described in detail. There are some mentions of activities in the rest of the world, most notably Hannibal crossing the alps, and some nice foreshadowing of events to come by mention of the German hatred for the Romans. It reminded me of books I read about the Bronze and Iron Ages as a child, although with more sex, violence, and swearing.
Altogether an interesting and well written book, and will be sure to appeal to those interested in finding out more about what our ancestors might have been like.
I award Hag of the Hills…
About the author
Joseph Thomas Thor Ryder is an archaeologist and author of the heroic fantasy trilogy, THE BRONZE SWORD CYCLES. Book 1 and 2 are Hag of the Hills and The Lion of Skye, alongside their prequel, Tomb of the Blue Demons.
He is a published author of Viking archaeology, and a doctoral candidate specializing in the Viking Age and Celtic Iron Age. He lives in Norway where he conducts archaeological research and writes heroic fantasy set in historical periods.