I had been looking forward to the release of this book for months. Then I was looking forward to it coming in the mail, then reading it, and now I’m looking forward to reviewing it. The Sons of Macha by John Lenahan is the third and final book in his Shadowmagic trilogy. As I feel it’s always important to share by own bias, I was introduced to this series by way of the 2011 Red Dwarf Convention (Red Dwarf is a British sci-fi show, it’s great, check it out.) John Lenahan once played the voice of a talking toaster on said show, so he was invited to make an appearance at the convention. I soon learned that John Lenahan is also an author and magician. I bought book one of the series, Shadowmagic, at that convention and I’ve been hooked ever since. It didn’t hurt that John Lenahan is a charming human being and a seemingly, all-around great guy. He also performed actual, live magic! He was even good enough to pose for the below picture.
So will this review be fair and even? No, probably not. But I hope it at least encourages some of you to check out the Shadowmagic series (books one and two are available as free audiobooks here: http://podiobooks.com/contributor/john-lenahan/), because now all I have to look forward to is whatever Mr. Lenahan decides to write next.
Onto the book itself, unfortunately, I’m beginning at the end. The Sons of Macha concludes the story of Conor O’Neil, a wise-cracking, smart-aleck teenager who has discovered that his father is not in simply a professor of ancient languages, but also the rightful ruler of the magical kingdom of Tir Na Nog. In book two of the series Conor discovers that his Uncle is actively attempting to launch a military assault against Castle Duir. Conor is joined by his friends, Araf and Tuan, a pair of girls, Essa and Graysea, who may be fighting for his attention (he’s not quite sure), and his extended family. The actions of the characters are shadowed by the prophecies of Ona, a powerful witch who once predicted the fate of the kingdom. Sons of Macha tells the tale of the return of Macha, Conor’s Grandmother and mother to Conor’s Uncle and Father. Unfortunately, not all family reunions are joyous ones, and Macha ends up playing an unexpected role in the fight for Tir Na Nog.
Conor is forgivably unlikeable. He’s often arrogant and ignorant, but luckily for the reader, most of Conor’s companions have little patience for him when he thinks he’s being oh-so-cool. We get to live vicariously through their impatience. It’s easy to forgive Conor because he is essentially a good guy, he doesn’t like the formalities typically granted to a prince, he shuns violence, and he knows when he’s being a jerk, he just doesn’t let that prevent him from acting like one.The story is told through Conor’s first person narrative, and Lenahan smartly imbues him with a wealth of self-awareness. This makes what threatened to be an irritating device, in fact, an insightful one. Conor is a teenager and like most teenagers he is self-centered, narcissistic, and petty.
Conor is problematic because he stumbles across good ideas and gets lucky more than he should (I mean that in the quite literal….”having a strain of good luck” sense…this is a children’s book). It’s in those moments that I question Lenahan’s writing the most. Dragons, banshees, and mermaids I’ll buy, but I will never forgive all-too-easy plot devices. Even though there are moments of imperfection, Lenahan makes it work, partially because many of the plot lines are driven by prophecy, and partially because these moments of good fortune build Conor’s character. Lenahan gives cause for Conor to be arrogant, but he is also not afraid of knocking him down a peg. This is what makes the character work, and the character needs to work or the whole series would fall flat.
The Shadowmagic series is also made enjoyable by the humor embedded throughout. At points, the humor reads more like cool-dad humor than smartass teenager humor, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The tone that this gives the series is one of sweetness. When you read the book you can tell that the author cares about Conor and wants him to grow and mature. It’s okay that Conor is not the most believable teenage boy, because teenage boys are disgusting, the thoughts in their heads would hardly be suitable for a children’s book. Instead we have Conor, he’s wholesome, he’s not perfect, but he’s kind. Literature needs these kinds of narrators because they show us the good in the world instead of the bad. I’m looking forward to one day sharing the Shadowmagic series with my children, it’s funny, it has a dragon, and at it teaches an important lesson about choosing one’s own fate.