Rating: 5 stars out of 5
At the outset of the Great Irish Potato Famine of 1845-50, a family of Irish revolutionaries attacks a British food convoy and kidnaps a young English officer named Julian Hawke. This first act of overt rebellion unleashes a series of events that both inextricably ties the O’Rahilly clan to Hawke and to the gay seanachie (storyteller) Ciaran Leath, but also seals their fates.
The only daughter, Muireann O’Rahilly, an aspiring physician, fails to resist the strong mutual attraction between her and Hawke. Hawke tries to balance his love for Muireann and his growing love for Ireland with his duty to suppress the budding rebellion. Ciaran Leath, who falls in love with both Julian Hawke as well as an angelic young tinker man, foresees both the coming famine and the disintegration of his adopted O’Rahilly clan, but finds himself unheard and powerless to protect them—or himself. Encountering spirits of the dead and other bad portents, Ciaran Leath invokes his old benefactor, the ancient Faerie Fin Bheara, but in doing so learns something devastating about himself and of what he is capable. When the O’Rahilly clan sets its sights on assassinating Queen Victoria, whom Hawke is sworn to protect, during her 1848 state visit to Cork, the stakes loom large for all involved, and the story turns inexorably toward a tragic end.
Against the backdrop of the terrible beauty and exquisite misery of southwestern Ireland during the famine years, this part-comic, part-romantic struggle against starvation, oppression, and one’s own worst impulses plots an epic arc from London and Dublin to Cork and New York City. Magic, Faeries, haunts, spirits, legends, ancient kings, monsters, and lovers richly populate this clash between the British Crown and the Irish people, and there can only be one survivor.
This is a work of literary/genre fiction.
If I had only two words to describe “The Hunger Man”, they’d probably be “difficult” and “strange”.
Difficult because of all the Gaelic words. Difficult because of the subject matter. Difficult because of the countless references to Irish mythology. Difficult because this book broke my heart. And difficult, if not impossible, to forget.
And strange mostly because of Ciarana, the seanachie. I’m still not entirely sure what to think of him. Did he really spend years living with the Fae? Or was he just insane and hallucinated it all? Or did he just pretend to be insane?
One thing’s for sure: “The Hunger Man” was incredibly intense. I was captivated. Still am, really, even a week after finishing it. In all honesty, this book left me speechless, so I’m having a very hard time coming up with the right words.
I’m not very familiar with Irish history, and while I’ve heard about the Potato Famine, I didn’t know any details. Having finished “The Hunger Man”, I feel a lot more educated on the topic. The book definitely works without background knowledge, but I think it would have been easier to understand had I been more familiar with the topic.
I really liked all the way the author made Irish mythology such an easy, natural part of the story. Once again, I now feel better educated, without getting an info dump. More than once, I ended up hitting Google to find out more.
There is a lot of Gaelic in this story. Now, I have a thing for languages, so I’m always thrilled to learn new words. There is a glossary at the end, but sometimes the Irish just got a little too much for me. I even considered getting myself a dictionary, but couldn’t find anything for a decent price. Some more translations in the book itself wouldn’t have hurt. But that was a minor annoyance overall.
This story had real depth. Every character was unique, no matter how minor they were. Muireann, Ciaran (the only one in first person) and Julian each get their own POV. Neither of them was easy to like. Ciaran was very strange and felt a little other-worldly. Muireann was incredibly pious and always tried to impress her older brother. And Julian was horribly ignorant and arrogant. Still, they did grow on me. They just felt like real people, each with their own weaknesses.
The tone is very dark and does get pretty violent at times, which was to be expected.
Overall, this book was simply brilliant. I lack the words to do it justice, so I’m going to shut up now.
If you’re interested in historical novels and aren’t necessarily looking for an easy read, then go for it. Just don’t expect a sweet love story with a historical backdrop. This is a literary novel that happens to have an MC who prefers men over women.
First I thought four stars would be an appropriate rating, because I did struggle with all the Gaelic. But that felt incredibly unfair, because I’ve read other books with lots of Japanese, which I didn’t mind because I have a friend to help me with that. Then I gave it 4.5 stars. That looked a little better. But ultimately, I think this book deserves the full 5 stars. It woke an interest for the topic in me and the MCs won’t let me go. And it’s not often that a book makes me feel so conflicted.
The cover by Natasha Snow shows a heap of stones, probably one to mark a grave. The sky looks ominous and stormy. That part looks really good. I’m not too fond of the green mist on the edges. And the publisher’s logo is extremely jarring.
Sales Links: NineStar Press | Amazon
Published June 6th 2016 by NineStar Press