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What happened before the Celts arrived?

  • Apr 21, 2011
This retells and expands the coming of those who engendered their own myths about ancient Ireland, and those whom they met. The Invaders here turn antagonists, unlike their counterparts in Celtic origin myths. Dunn shows us from the view of the Starwatchers, those already settled in the island, what this first of many incursions means for the oldest settlers. The figures of Boann, Aengus, Daghda, and Elcmar appear in legend, and many more whom Dunn introduces, embellishes, and imagines as full of longings, doubts, and concerns as you and me. Contexts about Atlantic Bronze Age trade, the dispersion of peoples, astronomy and traditions, and mercantile connections with Iberia and Britain, as sailing patterns are all integrated, smoothly and intelligently, into the plot.

While the tale starts and finishes in the present, this framing device coheres around a story from prehistory, when the Bronze Age reached the far fringes of Europe. About a hundred pages in, the setup is in place for the cultural showdown, and the main characters enter, so the pace settles in and sustains itself as Cian becomes the protagonist and we learn the combination of bronze and astronomy that allows him to mingle these crafts deftly. Dunn incorporates her academic studies into the story, not an easy task. "Bending the Boyne" blends knowledge and relationships, love and friendships, adventure and discovery into a fluid, steady narrative.

Dunn also sneaks in allusions to current politics, music, the Troubles, "A Modest Proposal," the poems of Yeats, and other cultural imports and inventions from the Ireland we know today. The narrative gives us a quick glimpse of where we're at now before taking us back very far. Then, we find out as the novel unfolds how what we see in a Dublin museum now might have originated thousands of years ago, if only a few miles northwards in distance, perhaps.

The tone, for an historical novel thousands of years ago, remains consistent: fluent enough for us to relate to, but enriched by a subtle register attuned to an ancient attitude, apart from our casual vernacular and casual exchanges. Dunn's characters regard status, relationship, and intention seriously, as misreadings of these cues can lead to their own doom. Therefore, I liked the slightly elevated diction and the avoidance of anachronisms, as if a resonant tale translated into modern vernacular does not lose its classical, measured cadence. I felt even for the "heavies" such as Elcmar, and what happens to such as Enya and Muirgen brings supporting roles alive as well. I felt I made friends with Cliodhna. I wanted to learn more of the elusive Sreng, and I wondered about Bolg.

Such open-endedness as to some characters, even as we follow others to the end, works well to expand the limits of the narrative, as with the Brighid and Connor episodes. I got angered at the Invaders and felt sorry for the Starwatchers. Dunn conveys the plight of those trapped by those determined to stop the mounds and erect the circles and this captures the societal transitions well, as does the way the "beaker" folk spread their technology. The explanations, as with how the newly imported, fashionable pots stand on tables, enter lightly, especially for historical fiction. Dunn makes the refinements of metallurgy as intriguing as astronomical alignment, resulting in an enjoyable and poignant account about these pre-Celtic Starwatchers.

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review by . June 07, 2011
  To be honest I had a hard time getting into this book because of how different the author's view of prehistoric/megalithic Ireland was and my own. I recognize however that the point of historical fiction is not to be accurate, and therefore I do not deduct stars for this.       I don't like to make too much in the way of historical nitpicking to such works because they are literary, communicative works, but having said the above I will list a few disagreements …
About the reviewer
John L. Murphy ()
Ranked #51
Medievalist turned humanities professor; unrepentant but not unskeptical Fenian; overconfident accumulator of books & music; overcurious seeker of trivia, quadrivia, esoterica.      … more
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Circa 2200 BCE: Changes rocking the Continent reach Eire with the dawning Bronze Age. Well before any Celts, marauders invade the island seeking copper and gold. The young astronomer Boann and the enigmatic Cian need all their wits and courage to save their people and their great Boyne mounds, when long bronze knives challenge the peaceful native starwatchers. Banished to far coasts, Cian discovers how to outwit the invaders at their own game. Tensions on Eire between new and old cultures and between Boann, Elcmar, and her son Aengus, ultimately explode. What emerges from the rubble of battle are the legends of Ireland s beginnings in a totally new light.

Bending The Boyne draws on 21st century archaeology to show the lasting impact when early metal mining and trade take hold along north Atlantic coasts. Carved megaliths and stunning gold artifacts, from the Pyrenees up to the Boyne, come to life in this researched historical fiction.

...A useful fleshing of the bones of an interesting archaeological story.
William O Brien, PhD, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland.

...Bang-on with the latest archaeological debates.
Peter Clark, MIFA, Director, The Canterbury Archaeological Trust, Canterbury, Kent, UK.

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Books, Religion, Js Dunn


ISBN-10: 0983155410
ISBN-13: 978-0983155416
Author: J. S. Dunn
Publisher: Seriously Good Books

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