Brother and sister Liam and Amy are sent to scenic Connemara to spend the summer with their grandmother whilst their mother holidays abroad with her new boyfriend. The reader soon finds out what she’s missing when the two siblings discover a waterfall flowing backwards, through which a white hawk flies and neither returns nor dies. Amy, headstrong and bold, follows the bird without hesitation and cautious but protective Liam warily follows her, into the seemingly idyllic land of Tir na nOg.
Doyle immediately immerses her readers into a narrative rich in Irish mythology as Liam is swiftly captured by the Dullahan, headless horsemen in thrall to the wicked mage Tarlock who has used an ancient, evil spell to chain the sun to the world and thus stop time. The spell requires a child to make it work and, as it is losing its potency, Tarlock needs another victim: Liam.
Amy determines to rescue her brother and her feisty determination eventually persuades Oscar de Barra, leader of the Fianna, to take on her cause. The narrative is packed with action but never at the expense of the characters, who are far more than slaves to warfare. Nuances are gradually revealed and new friendships and alliances are formed: Amy gains the respect of these hardened warriors. Doyle interjects humour into the exchanges between the protagonists whilst remaining invested in the seriousness of their mission-to save both Liam and their world.
Liam spends most of the book in a dungeon in Silverstone Castle, Tarlock’s lair, where he finds the courage to fight against his imprisonment and eventual death. He meets the Girl King, whose fate is to remain chained to the sun for ever, and helps her to return to the world of Connemara, which she was taken from 60 years earlier-she is his aunt, Grandma’s much-mourned sister.
The ending of the book is positive and warming – the wicked creatures defeated and the good ones triumphant. And how good it is to see a young girl taking a central role in a thrilling and dangerous drama!
Fans of Narnia, Philip Pullman and myths and legends with characters writ large and settings beautifully drawn will revel in this roller-coaster read.