Reviewer Steve Moore: Steve is a full-time writer and ex-scientist. Besides his many technical publications, he has written six sci-fi thrillers (one a novel for young adults), many short stories, and frequent comments on writing and the digital revolution in publishing. His interests also include physics, mathematics, genetics, robotics, forensics, and scientific ethics. Follow Here for his WEBSITE.
Author: Ellie O’Neill
They were often under my bed—little people, among them fairies, elves, and leprechauns—I could hear them whispering in their strange language. Sometimes my cat would stand on tiptoes and knead the covers, hissing. Mom would laugh; Dad would say that it’s the blarney in the boy. Now Ellie O’Neill has brought them back.
My own muses are banshees who wield tasers, so I jumped at the chance to review this new book—a wee bit of comedy, whimsical mystery, and fantasy, with up-and-down romantic interludes. It’s a story about my Irish half’s heritage. I wasn’t disappointed. I love reading a well spun yarn and discovering new and/or undiscovered authors—I’m one of the latter—so Reluctantly Charmed was like a fresh spring breeze blowing away memories of this dreadful winter.
I’ve seen a lot of Europe in both work and play, but our trip to Ireland was special. While it might be debatable whether Guinness is better than what you might find in a Munich bierhaus, Irish whiskey is the best in the world; but I knew that long before I learned about its distillation in the tour of the old Jameson brewery in Dublin. Catering to my inherited predilection for Irish alcoholic beverages was secondary in this novel, but all other wonderful Irish spirits are present—fairies, in particular.
Main character Kate McDaid is a junior person in a Dublin advertising firm (the story takes place as the Irish economic boom is turning into a bust). She lives in a flat on one side of St. Stephens, and her bike riding and walks around the area brought back fond memories of places explored on our trip. Some of the story takes place on the west coast too, an area that contains some of my favorite Irish landscapes. These are the settings, the venues of this very Irish story. But it isn’t a travel journal.
An earlier Kate McDaid, the great-great-great aunt of the current Kate, who lived around the time of the potato famine, that tragic period of starvation largely ignored by Ireland’s English gentry at the time, was called the Red Hag because she was reputed to be a witch and had red hair like the modern Kate. The Red Hag’s will is directed to the first female ancestor who is a redhead when she turns twenty-six, but she mysteriously knows that descendant will also be called Kate McDaid. It took more than a century for that to happen, so there’s a curious mix of the old and the new in this novel as a result.
That mix correlates nicely with the Red Hag’s request: to receive her inheritance, present-day Kate must post Seven Steps—really poems, some dark and some whimsical—in a public place. These poems involve fairies. Being the 21st century, modern Kate chooses the internet as her preferred publication media, a blog site for a rock group. Unfortunately, she becomes the rock star as the Seven Steps more than capture the public’s fancy. It seems that many Irish people still believe in banshees and the little people. The paparazzi start chasing Kate. Moreover, she has strange moments of intuition; when that intuition is applied to people’s problems, it sometimes helps them, and they call it a spell, thus reaffirming she’s a witch just like her 19th century relative.
The comedy is in the situations and many outlandish characters. The cop who requests a bit of help with an itch in exchange for aiding Kate to find her stolen bicycle; the botoxed and wigged Maura who is chasing eternal youth; Kate’s crazy parents, who are drunk with more than fifteen minutes of fame; and the Pan-like Hugh, who is smitten without nary a spell—they all provide comic relief, and they are all superbly drawn.
Standard techniques for writing mystery are employed. First, the whole novel is first-person Kate—the reader only knows what she knows, but also wonders what she wonders about. Are there fairies? If so, what’s their agenda? Why their interest in Kate? Did the Red Hag have powers? What was her relation to the people of the little coastal town of Knocknamee—in particular, to their priests? Like all good mysteries, there are misdirects and oodles of clues until everything is resolved. But this is a lot more fun than anything Agatha Christie wrote!
Part of the mystery involves conspiracy too because reporter Maura belongs to a secret society linked to politicians and criminals (in Irish history, they’re often the same, don’t you know), and this society is definitely interested in Kate publishing the Seven Steps. What’s their sinister agenda? I’m not including any spoilers, though—you’ll have to read the book. I could have done without old Maura and her group, but they show that the belief in the fairies covers the whole age spectrum in Ireland.
The fantasy is found in the fairy world, of course. St. Paddy might have chased the snakes out of Ireland, but he couldn’t quite get rid of the stories about the little people. Ask Irish folk, especially away from the big cities, whether they believe in banshees, fairies, and leprechauns, and their likely answer, with a wink and a nod, could be, “Do you?” You see these parallel beliefs in many cultures—in this case, devout Catholics who are at least wondering about the wee folk popping out and making mischief. The young Kate’s experiences aren’t very different than mine, noted above; the older Kate’s experiences are the subject of the story.
Romance occurs various times in the novel. Kate becomes obsessed with Jim, the rock star who owns the website; a farmer, the noble Hugh mentioned above, who lives close to Knocknamee, grows on her; and she isn’t really sure whether colleague Matthew is just a friend either. I couldn’t identify with Kate’s immaturity in these cases, but maybe her flightiness is common in romance novels? It’s also a put-down on how the Irish find mates because Kate claims that partners are found and eliminated during pub crawls. Yes, in Dublin, Galway, and Killarney we saw young people enjoying each other’s company, but married couples we met at the same pubs seemed to have cemented their relationships rather well.
I’m not allowed to quote from the prose because I read the preliminary edition of the ebook, but I can say that Ellie O’Neill is a new and entertaining writer. The plot keeps me interested; the characters have entertaining quirks; the dialog is snappy, albeit very Irish at times; and the settings are marvelous. For a first book, there aren’t many technical glitches. I would have started in the lawyer’s office when the great-great-great aunt’s will is read. The background provided in Chapter One and most of Chapter Two would have been better in a flashback in order to create more of a hook. The book’s a bit too descriptive for my tastes too. The description of Jim, the rocker, takes many pages, for example. Sometimes the prose is too conversational—I found those sentences with their multiple and’s distracting.
Nitpicking aside, readers will find this is a fun book to read. It’s a marvelous start for this author. I wish her many more successes in her writing career. Do I hear the fairies whispering about a sequel? Kate still has to learn about the mysterious Blue Bottle! Maybe Kate and Hugh on an adventure together?