The Witches of Eileanan (Book 1)
by Kate Forsyth
In the Celtic land of Eileanan, witches and magic have been outlawed, and those caught for practicing witchcraft are put to death! It is a land ruled by an evil Queen, where sea-dwelling Fairgean stir, and children vanish in the night. But in a valley deep in the mountains, young Isabeau grows to womanhood under the guidance of an elderly witch, and must set out on a quest, carrying the last hopes of the persecuted witches. (goodreads.com)
If you asked me what my all-time favourite Fantasy series was I would answer with “The Belgariad! No! The Witches of Eileanan! No! Bellgariad! No! Witches!” and then my head would probably explode. But I have been thinking about this question a lot as I reread the series I first discovered in 1999. Though I adore David & Leigh Eddings’ Belgariad and Mallorean series, I think my favourite part of that series was a companion novel, Polgara the Sorceress. Kate Forsyth’s Witches series reminds me a lot of Polgara, or rather, the other way around.
ANYHOW… my point is that this 6-book series is fantastic and comfort food for my brain and soul. After the state of mind Plain Kate left me in I just could not get into a brand new book. I started and stopped 5 books after Plain Kate and finally decided since I was desperate to read something I would pick up an old favourite and see how that went. It’s been a while since I have read this first book and I was instantly transported back to the world of Eileanan within the first pages.
Many of you may only know Kate Forsyth from her two recent MG/YA novels – The Puzzle Ring (which I ADORED) and The Gypsy Crown, although I have loved her for much longer than that. I was working in a bookstore when the second book in this series came out and the cover caught my eye instantly and when I saw it was a Book 2 I went in search of Book 1. So, really, since 1999 I have been head-over-heels in love with this series and the author’s writing.
The series has quite a large cast of characters and it may seem a little daunting as you are introduced to the various clans of Eileanan. Even with this rereading I was trying to remember all of the clans and characters. Many are around much of the novel but some slip in under the radar and you are left trying to figure out what side they’re on. 😉
Oddly, my fondest memory of the book is Isabeau and yet much of the novel focuses on her sister Iseault and guardian Meghan. Some major plot points that happened in this book I remembered has happening later on in the novel, but in my defense by the time I got to the 6th book so much had happened! 😉
One thing I remember missing – and still do – from the books are the maps of the country. These can actually be found on the author’s website, but I like having maps at the front of my fantasy books so I can flip back and orient myself when a character goes from one place to the other. And these maps weren’t available online back in the days of yore that I originally read the books!
Another thing that I would have found very helpful is a glossary at the end and pronunciation guide. There are a lot of Gaelic words in this series and I never know how to pronounce them and that makes me angry! I was hoping perhaps such a guide would be available on the website, too, but sadly there isn’t. So I spent a few hours googling the words and trying to find pronunciation guides. Turns out these past 11 years I have been mispronouncing the words for King and Queen in this book – Rìgh and Banrìgh (Ree and BanREE). I was pronouncing it like RYE (like eye). Argh. I might be of Irish decent but I wasn’t born with an innate knowledge of Gaelic. ha! And I am not always certain I am pronouncing the names of people or faerie races all that well. Oh, dear. So I have been making google my friend when it comes to Gaelic terms.
Overall, this is a fantastic fantasy series. It’s magical, dragony, humourous, torturous and all around enchanting. I am immersed in Eileanan with each book and they are not small books either. They are all between 450-550 pages and so well written you’d almost have to believe the world exists and that the author spent a ton of time there.
I’m on to book two now and I think my emotions have settled enough from reading Plain Kate that I might actually be able to get to a review book after this!
The Witches of Eileanan series
- The Witches of Eileanan
- The Pool of Two Moons
- The Cursèd Towers
- The Forbidden Land
- The Skull of the World
- The Fathomless Caves