Bending the Boyne: A Novel of Ancient Ireland
by J. S. Dunn
The peaceful Starwatchers, living in ancient Ireland on the banks of the Boyne, are threatened as barbarians from overseas come with metal weapons and compete for resources. Boann, a young woman who loves watching the stars, marries the invader leader Elcmar in an attempt to maintain peace between the two people. The events of this book, set at the cusp of the Bronze Age, rely on the latest archeological evidence and the rich literature of Ireland’s greatest writers to spin this tale that melds history and mythology.
I was intrigued by this book when I saw it listed as an Early Reviewer offering at Librarything.com. I love historical fiction, and I enjoy archeology – but I know very little of the Stone Age/Bronze Age and even less about prehistoric Ireland. So this seemed to be a great way to learn a little through a pleasantly diverting novel.
By the time I reached the hundred page mark, I knew I would not be able to finish this book. It was a very poor match for me and my personal tastes. These are the key reasons:
- There wasn’t adequate proofreading/editing, so odd sentences show up that don’t make sense.
Take this line from the opening paragraph:
“A glut of vehicles, their noise, the fumes, assailed his broad shoulders.” (1)
OK. Assail = attack, yes? There's an excessive supply of cars, and the noise and stench of them are attacking...a man's shoulders? What?? Unless the cars are attempting to run him over, there's no way this sentence can begin to make sense, since shoulders can neither smell nor hear. The following passage makes it clear, however, that the unnamed man isn't roadkill. Odd sentences like this appeared frequently enough to distract me from the story – never a good thing.
On a lesser note, there’s quite a few grammatical errors scattered throughout. Semicolons connect fragments together; errant commas sprout randomly in the middle of sentences. In one form or another, there’s a mistake on almost every page. Again, I found it incredibly distracting.
- Formatting is inconsistent.
“Will we tolerate another boatload of armed strangers, Oghma asked himself.” (15)
“He told himself, my ancestors traveled using a hide boat, and he made himself climb aboard with the warriors.” (78)
Italics are applied inconsistently for internal dialogue. It seemed like a fifty-fifty split – half the time, the sentences appeared as above. The two quotes included are exactly how these sentences appear in the book, sans quotation marks. It’s clear that these characters aren’t having a conversation with someone else, but their thoughts aren’t clearly demarcated. It just seems...sloppy to me. Again, I feel like a proofreader should have caught this before the book went to print.
- Dialogue is stiff and awkward.
I did like that there’s a clear difference between how the Starwatchers and the Invaders speak, but the manner in which the Starwatchers talk does come across as very unnatural.
- This last one is a very personal bias.
I don’t like it when ancient societies are portrayed as peaceful, earth-hugging hippie types who are at peace with the world and at one with each other, living in perfect harmony until the day a Big Bad Other comes along and runs them over with their evil technological ways. I just can’t buy the myth of a peaceful society. (*cough*Avatar*cough*)
I’d say that it was learning about the Maya civilization that ruined this for me. Back at the beginning of the 20th century, it was widely thought that the Maya were a quiet, peaceful civilization worshipping the stars and lead by stargazer-priests. (Not unlike the Starwatchers depicted in Bending the Boyne. One hundred years later, we know that isn’t true at all; the Maya were warriors, practiced blood sacrifice, and had a complex government system. They weren’t at all like the stargazer-priests.
The Minoans, too, were long thought to be a peaceful society of merchants, but again, archeology has revealed the presence of fortifications and weapons on Crete. I guess I don’t have faith in humanity – I don’t think we can exist without conflict, and a truly harmonious society is a fantasy. But because of this bias, I couldn’t buy into the Starwatchers society created by J. S. Dunn.
As I said before, I don’t know much about this time period in Ireland or the archeological evidence to support Dunn’s creation. The author does provide a short but comprehensive summary in the final chapter of recent archeological discoveries pertaining to the monoliths and the Boyne river area. A bibliography of the author’s research wasn’t in the printed book, but it is available on his (or her?) website. Even though I object to the peaceful Boyne natives (it’s just too mythological for my tastes) I would have been able to keep reading had the sloppiness of the writing and editing not killed it for me. I know that small presses don’t have the same resources as the big publishing houses, but I still expect a professional, polished product if I’m to devote several hours to reading it. It really makes a difference.
1.5 out of 5 stars – but didn’t finish book
The site of Newgrange, which figures prominently in the book