The Last of the High Kings by Kate Thompson

When last we saw J.J. Liddy he was trying to put his memory back together after a trip to T’ir na n’Og.  He has saved the Land of Eternal Youth by finding the leak that allowed time to trickle into that magical world from our more mundane one.  This leak was stealing time from earth and causing T’ir na n’Og to age rather than remain timeless.

In The Last of the High Kings Kate Thompson picks up the story 15 years later.  And things haven’t gotten any easier for J.J.  As a husband and father he just has a new set of problems:

Why does his daughter Jenny roam barefoot through the wilds, when she should be in school? When did the mysterious white goat begin to patrol the hillside? What is the secret project that J.J.’s son Donal is attempting? And who is the ghost guarding the stone beacon at the top of the mountain—and why has Jenny befriended him?

This sequel to The New Policeman continues Thompson’s creative blending of Irish myth and fairy tale with contemporary Irish life.  And she continues to bring a nice blend of wit and suspense to the story while adding in some great new characters.  Jenny in particular is an interesting, but in many ways elusive, character; the Puka continues to bring a blend of magic and menace; and there are lots of interesting dynamics that result from being part of a large – and unique – family.

But I found this book not quite as engaging as the first and at times a little too preachy.

High Kings has a number of threads and Thompson does a good job of bringing them together in the end.  But it takes a while for all of these threads to be introduced and as a result the story drags at first.  It takes quite a while before many of the key plot elements are introduced and a lot of the background scenes seem disconnected.  I think trying to introduce all of the children and other characters just saps the pace and focus.  It lacks the crisp action of the first book.

The other thing that got on my nerves was the rather preachy environmentalist message that is involved.  The Puka begins to sound like a rabbid Greenpeace member or something.  He lectures Jenny on how humans have destroyed the world with their technoloogy and waste, etc.  I am not sure how it strikes young people but it seemed over the top to me.  YMMV (your mileage may vary).

The last third of the book, however, goes some way to redeeming the story.  Once the threads are developed the story picks up and Thompson recaptures much of the inventive and suspenseful nature of her retelling of Irish myths (or the bringing of these myths to the present day).

Together the two books make for an entertaining and educational – there is a glossary in both books for unfamiliar names and terms – romp throught Celtic myth and Irish culture.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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