Shauna Lawless delivers an intriguing blend of Irish history and folklore fantasy in The Children of Gods and Fighting Men. It’s a lo-octane thriller that keeps the reader hooked throughout. It also made me think of a whole new angle for book posts: “If this book was a tabletop game…”
What Is The Children of Gods and Fighting Men?
Much like the Pantheon series that I reviewed recently, this book features epic clashes featuring Vikings. Tonally the two settings are very different (one is set in modern Edinburgh and the other 10th Century Ireland), yet they have much in common too.
This book is a blend of fantasy and history that works extremely well. Many of the characters in the book were real people, powerbrokers of the time. The main events in the novel are key events of Irish history. Whilst the story is grounded in the real world, its narrators are something more supernatural.
Fódla is a Tuatha Dé Danann and the other, Gormflaith, descends from the Tuatha Dé Danann’s enemies, the Fomorians. Both are women. Gormflaith is a woman filled with guile who will do anything to protect her son. Fódla saw her sister exiled and was powerless to stop it. All she could do was accept a quest from the Tuatha Dé Danann, taking her young orphaned nephew with her. The stories of the two mythical enemies are intertwined, but Shauna Lawless never allows legend to overshadow the historical record. Instead, she weaves folk tales into the gaps of history, making a stronger whole.
If Children of Gods and Fighting Men Was a Tabletop Game
There is one obvious choice for this one: Brian Boru from Osprey Games. Brian Boru is a major character in the novel. I haven’t played it, but as Peer Sylvester designed the game, it’s likely worth a look. The product description is as follows: “In Brian Boru: High King of Ireland, you strive to unite Ireland under your domain, securing control through might, cunning, and matrimony. Join forces to fend off Viking invaders, build monasteries to extend your influence, and gather support in towns and villages throughout the land.” It gives the impression of a game centered around a man very much like the Brian Boru portrayed in the book!
Brian Boru is described as drafting, area control, and trick-taking—sounds pretty great to me.
If that wasn’t enough, I’ve recently read Osprey’s Lion Rampant skirmish rules for small warband tabletop battles. I was already interested in picking up some miniatures to build a force. Now I really want some pick up some Irish Vikings or some of Brian Boru’s men to make battle with. It was great to read Children of Gods and Fighting Men with this in mind. One media informed the other!
Why Read Children of Gods and Fighting Men?
The Children of Gods and Fighting Men is quietly excellent. Its characters, in particular the two narrators, slowly exert a hold over the reader. In many ways, it is hard to see where the enmity between the two groups comes from. We are simply told they are enemies and thus it is so. As in many conflicts, each side has a story; propaganda, misinformation, and bad faith drive the battles. Neither side seems worst than the other. It makes for an absorbing read. Who should we root for?
I don’t know very much (anything) about this period of Irish history (apart from being aware of who Brian Boru was, thanks to reading about the game). Whether this aids or hinders the enjoyment of the novel, I’m not sure. It certainly meant I had no expectations or preconceptions as to what might happen or who might prevail.
The novel makes for an excellent jumping-off point for the history of the period, not only in Ireland but in Britain at the time too. The tribes and connections between forces and families in Britain and Ireland were fascinating.
This is a political novel, as well as one filled with combat. Decisions are made for expediency. It’s an interesting lens on how self-interest shapes a nation’s history. Whilst satisfying as a single volume, things are definitely left open for at least one more novel. One that I would most definitely read. Hopefully, we’ll see a follow-up next year.
I enjoyed Children of Gods and Fighting Men from start to finish, both the fantastical and historical elements. Lawless blends the two to create a story about an infant nation and the major players in its creation. There is no single thing that demands that you read this book, yet as a whole, it absolutely insists that you do. Highly recommended.
If you’d like to pick up a copy of Children of Gods and Fighting Men, you can do so here in the US (from November 1st, 2022) and here in the UK (out now). (Affiliate links.)
If you enjoyed this review, check out my other book reviews.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in order to write this review.