3 out of 4 stars
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Over a century ago, the Tinkers (aka travelers or gypsies) journeyed from their homeland to escape famine and death. With them, they brought their religion, myths, and lore. In their arms, they carried the ‘dark ones,’ babes and children so dubbed for unfailingly possessing the traits of dark hair and black eyes. These were the offspring of the sea-dwelling Roan, fae creatures from Celtic lore, and the humans with whom they consorted on the shores of Scotland.
Once in America, these travelers shed their nomadic ways, settling in the vee of two converging Wisconsin rivers. Here lay the locus of a “thin veil” between worlds, where the myths, legends, and realities of many cultures mingled, and magic was a living thing. Here the ‘dark ones’ have dwelled for a century and a half, sheltered and protected. Their children, possessing gifts connecting them to nature in ways unknown in the human world, have thrived. But now the children of the ‘dark ones’ are disappearing, stolen away in the night. The balance of power between light and darkness is shifting, and only one who possesses the gifts of both worlds can put it right.
This is the realm into which seventeen-year-old Conor Archer stumbles. Born over a century ago, Conor has lived in both worlds, though he remembers only his life in our own. Disoriented, grieving the recent death of his mother, and delirious from the poisoned bite of one who claimed to be his kin, he has followed his mother’s last wishes and come in search of family he never knew existed. Roan: The Tales of Conor Archer by E.R. Barr is a tale which, though set in the present day, spans centuries. Journey with Conor through a world where nothing is as it seems, where the magical and non-magical exist, each alongside the other, forbidden love haunts both past and present, and the bonds of friendship and loyalty are crucial to survival.
Roan: The Tales of Conor Archer is a coming of age story set within a hero’s journey. Though the theme seems familiar, the author has added multiple twists and unique mythology to create something entirely new. What I liked best about the novel was that Barr successfully merged the mythologies of Celtic lore, Native American legends, paganism, and Christian beliefs in (to me) an entirely inoffensive manner. He carefully avoided stereotyping the ‘spirits’ of any belief system and was respectful of all philosophies included.
Another aspect I liked was that the storyline was not revealed all at once. Instead, scenarios ‘unroll’ gradually as Conor strives to find the next thread in the tapestry that interweaves the future of the ‘dark ones’ with his own. This built suspense and made the book nearly impossible to put down. The author has crafted an immersive and captivating novel that seamlessly merges fantasy and reality.
As the tale progressed, characters (both human and other) were brought smoothly into the flow of the story, and each was essential to its culmination. I loved the way the author incorporated figures from mythology as actual characters. Each had their own purpose and personality, be that good, evil, or somewhere in between. Backstories were gradually revealed about each of them as Conor explored the town of Tinker's Grove and its mysteries. The intricate world Barr has constructed is both familiar and alien at once. It is easy to lose oneself in its labyrinth of stories within the main story.
The novel is not a light read. It weighs in at almost 600 pages. As much as I loved it, I cannot recommend it to the casual reader. However, in my opinion, the length gave the author the ability and time to further flesh out realistic and relatable characters and to engage in some substantially intricate world-building. There were many instances of cursing, with a** being the worst. Scenes of intimacy, two to be exact, were handled tastefully in a “fade to black” manner.
Many ‘errors’ found were due to the dialect being spoken in the book. Two additional error types (hyphen use and missing commas before conjunctions) were so consistent throughout the book that I could only put it down to a stylistic choice of the author. Unfortunately, many errors remained, such as numerous compound words written as two words (i.e., “barmaid” written as “bar maid) and far too many missing commas in other places than could be overlooked.
I would recommend the book to anyone who enjoys a melding of fantasy with a light dose of sci-fi or is fond of Celtic and Native American lore and traditions. I would especially recommend it for those who are fans of Tolkien and Pratchett. However, I would advise that fundamentalists who find alterations of their religion offensive avoid this book.
Ultimately, I give Roan: The Tales of Conor Archer 3 out of 4 stars. The discounted star is only taken because of the many errors. I found it to be a captivating story of good vs. evil, which I enjoyed immensely. It had everything I love: magic, mysticism, the Celtic world of the fae with all that it entails, heroes, romance, fantasy, and so much more. It was a beautifully rendered and haunting tale, sometimes dark but always hopeful, that held a powerful message about self-discovery. It is a mystical path that I am so glad I followed. Find out for yourself. Just beyond these willow trees, the mysteries of Tinker’s Grove await you.
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