S.L. Farrell,
The Cloudmages #1:
Holder of Lightning

(DAW, 2003)

S.L. Farrell's Holder of Lightning is a sprawling kickoff to his Cloudmages trilogy.

Set in an alternate ancient Ireland, Holder of Lightning introduces Jenna Aoire, a young woman who lives with her widowed mother Moira just ouside the village of Ballintubber. Jenna's simple life is turned upside down when the legendary mage lights return to the skies, and she finds a stone of power, a cloch na thintri, on the hilltop.

It turns out that not only is her cloch one of many such stones that have lain dormant all these years, she holds the lamh shabhala, the most powerful of them all and the master stone for every other cloch. Jenna's life changes too swiftly from simple village girl to high-ranking mage as she is swept up in intrigues, assassination attempts and the perils of love and warfare. The transition is fraught with personal issues including addiction to a pain-killing herb and increased tension in her relationship with her mother that results in enmity

The story is depicted in broad strokes filled in with an incredible amount of detail. Sometimes it feels as if there is a bit too much flesh for the story, but it holds together without collapsing. Farrell does a good job of tying off the story while leaving some dramatic tension to carry into the next installment.

The plot is original and attention grabbing. Jenna suffers to an extreme for her power and she must temper her strength to use it effectively. She is a well-drawn character overall; she grows rapidly in some ways while in others remains a naive village girl, further fueling the conflict.

If you feel overwhelmed by places, names and terminology, Farrell provides guides to all that information and more at the back of the book. The characters are arranged in the order they appear, a nifty arrangement that avoids potential spoilers. There's even a list of the major clochs and their powers -- although I must confess that I was reminded of Pokemon after reading the list. The information lacks only a pronunciation guide to be complete.

If you like Celtic fantasy that spreads out a story like a huge blanket at a picnic and provides a feast to satisfy your imagination, then Holder of Lightning by S.L. Farrell may well be the book for you.

- Rambles
written by Donna Scanlon
published 27 December 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.