There is a sub-genre of speculative fiction that revolves around telling the true origins of the myths and legends of different cultures. Common stories include the gods being humans with extraordinary abilities/technology or just aliens that wowed us humans with their sufficiently advanced technology. There are good and bad ways to tell these stories and a recent example that I read is Only the Stones Survive by Morgan Llywelyn.
Only the Stones Survive focuses on the myths and legends of pagan Ireland. In the distant past, Ireland is inhabited by the Túatha Dé Danann or the “Children of Light”. They have been on the island for so long that they don’t even remember when they arrived or where they originally came from. They look like small humans (except for their pointed ears) and they do their best to live in harmony with their surroundings. In return, their home grants them supernatural abilities.
Our main point of view for this culture is the young Joss who comes of age when a tribe of Gaels has arrived seeking a new home after their lands in Iberia can no longer support them. They come with iron weapons and take whatever they want from the land instead of seeking a balance like the Children of Light. Joss’ people try to fight them, but their bronze weapons and magic are no match for the Gaels. As Joss’ people are exterminated, he has to learn to find a way to save his people from the onslaught of the newcomers.
As mentioned earlier, Only the Stones Survive gives the true origins of the Celtic fairy tales of Ireland. Even the fear of iron, which was even worked into the The Long Earth series, was explained. If you have an interest in Irish mythology, you will probably enjoy the book, but I frankly found it boring. I mean it wasn’t badly written (except for one scene I will mention later) and there wasn’t particularly anything offensive about it, I just didn’t like it. I felt like the author skipped over a lot of interesting bits, like the battles or the politicking of the Children of Light. There were references to a weapon called “Earthkillers” that the Children were afraid to use and it almost seemed like they were building up to their eventual use (or their refusal to use them) but they were forgotten about by the end of the book.
Additionally there was one scene that annoyed me. Two characters talked about what just happened to them and what they felt about it…only to have several chapters after that cover the events of the same conversation in detail. What was the point of giving away so much of the book so early? It was like spoiling your own work to audience. Don’t get me wrong, foreshadowing can be used well in a story, but this was clumsily done in a book that is otherwise well-written.
I wish I could say more, but this book just didn’t create any strong emotions for me. I wanted to like Only the Stones Survive and while on an objective level I can see why people would like this (which is a change of pace from other books I can’t recommend yet seem to be the lone voice of criticism, like Rewinder). If you have an interest in Irish mythology, you will probably enjoy this book. If not, then there are plenty of other books out there you should be reading.