Author’s note: I read several books while traveling, on the plane, in the car, and otherwise between visits. I am also participating in an indie author promotion group for Science Fiction and Fantasy called Your Next Favorite Author (Twitter #YNFA), and some of the books I read come from that group. I will post reviews here once a week.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Shining Ones is a fun ride with lots of action and Irish lore. It is a daring, but not always successful, attempt at a modern quest fantasy using Irish mythology as a backdrop. Fans of the Percy Jackson series would enjoy this book, although it describes several adult situations that are not aimed at YA readers.
The book’s strengths are its non-stop action and the author’s ability to make folk tales and characters of the British Isles come alive for the reader. I was unfamiliar with all but the most storied of the mythic characters on the quest, but I was captivated by how well it all came together and moved along at a swift pace. This page-turner quality distracted me while I was reading from the book’s major flaws: too many characters and a poorly-motivated quest that felt more like a role-playing game than something ancient for which the fate of the world hung in the balance.
First, the characters: Tessa Holly was a good protagonist, relatable, not an overpowered Mary Sue, and with something potentially vital at stake for her own life and happiness. Unfortunately her motivation for undertaking the quest is underwhelming, and as the novel progresses, her story gets less interesting rather than more, and other characters move to the fore and vie for readers’ attention. There are so many supporting characters with similar-sounding names, especially the Dananns, that I had trouble keeping them straight. For a while it seemed like a thing to match up the modern character with his/her mythic counterpart, but I was frustrated with this when it came to Keevon/Kevin. His character started out as one of the main band of travelers, and then he disappeared for no good reason. In addition, he was very unconvincing as a concert violinist. Equally unconvincing was scientist Craig Ash. He was well done if his purpose was to show that Dananns can be douchey too, but in general, the less said about the science and the scientists here, the better. And, I was repeatedly thrown out of the story by the character named Elizabeth Warren. Elizabeth Warren is currently too high profile of a politician in the United States to have her name used for a comic-book-level villainess, especially in a book in which almost every other character’s name has some hidden meaning. If I wanted to be reading about U.S. politics, I wouldn’t be reading this book.
The novel can’t seem to decide whether it is a quest or a romance. At its best, it’s both, and weaves these two strands together into an exciting whole. The romance plot has a lot of potential for tension, but it is undermined by several weaknesses. The chemistry between Holly and Sam sputters along without ever really catching fire. Sam, awkwardly, is both a bit too old for Holly and a bit too young to be Lia’s father. Holly doesn’t seem to have given any thought one way or another to her impending arranged marriage. A few times, the tragedies inherent in relationships between long-lived Dananns and short-lived temps are alluded to, but much more could have been made of this as well. I found Holly’s general lack of introspection to be disappointing, especially as this non-introspective quality seemed to be shared by everyone in the story, with the occasional exception of Sam. The circumstances of Holly’s “reveal” itself would have been much more emotionally powerful had there been some foreshadowing.
Still, by the end of the book, I liked and cared about all of these characters and wanted a happy end for them. I was moderately satisfied by the ending, but there were enough loose ends that it seemed to be pointing to a sequel. I hope there is one, because this material is very rich, and this novel has barely scratched the surface of it.