Title: Saint Brigid’s Bones: A Celtic Adventure
Author: Philip Freeman
No. of Pages: 336
Genre: Historical Fiction
Origins: Pegasus Books
Release Date: 15 October 2014
Bottom Line: Not as good as I was hoping it would be
“In ancient Ireland, an island ruled by kings and druids, the nuns of Saint Brigid are fighting to keep their monastery alive. When the bones of Brigid go missing from their church, the theft threatens to destroy all they have worked for. No one knows the danger they face better than Sister Deirdre, a young nun torn between two worlds.
Trained as a bard and raised by a druid grandmother, she must draw upon all of her skills, both as a bard and as a nun, to find the bones before the convent begins to lose faith.”
Thoughts: Saint Brigid’s Bones may occur in the 6th century, but it has the feel of a modern-day novel. The language and sentence structure are very pithy and contemporary. Dierdre is quite emancipated even before her vows as a nun. Her vocation and her family history give her more freedoms than one expects any female to have been able to achieve. All of this makes the entire novel feel otherworldly and lessens the impact of any historical accuracy. There is no note of authenticity which allows readers to think the story is anything other than purely fictional, something readers of historical fiction typically want to see.
In an attempt to offset this current vibe, Mr. Freeman shares pagan rituals in great detail. There is one scene in particular which discusses a certain taboo with equanimity but will have readers’ stomachs heaving in disgust. It is one of the more repulsive scenes one will ever read, made even more so because of the fact that there is an entire culture that did such things and thought it an honor to participate in such acts. However, it does lead to the question of whether including such rites is necessary for the story. Outside of the shock value and possible history lesson, these scenes do not bring Deirdre any closer to the truth and nor do they allow her character to develop any further.
Deirdre’s search for the missing artifacts is haphazard and nonchalant, belying the urgency that one would expect when there is a specific deadline rapidly approaching. One never feels Deirdre worry or buckle under the pressure. If anything, she has a remoteness about her mission that allows her to get caught up in side plots that have nothing to do with her goal.
One does not feel much for Deirdre in general in fact. It is obvious what Mr. Freeman is attempting to do with her character, but he is less successful achieving his goal. Deirdre is supposed to be an intelligent and independent woman gifted with the ability to cross classes and tribes due to her unique position as a member of the ruling class, a high-ranking royal personage in her own right, and a nun sworn to poverty and charity. She is a flighty, self-centered girl who abuses her unique positions to bully people into answering her questions and achieving her goals. She is the type of character that all of the men love and all of the women hate.
Set in tribal Ireland shortly after Saint Patrick and Saint Brigid’s deaths, Saint Brigid’s Bones should have been a fascinating story of life in ancient Ireland back when druids and Christians ruled simultaneously. Instead, the entire story falls well short of expectations and hopes. The contemporary vibe of the characters does not blend well with the setting, and the ancient rituals mentioned do nothing but antagonize readers with their extremes. That it is the first book in an entire series surrounding Deirdre explains the way the story rushes and the lack of any character development. It is also one series that most readers will be able to set aside for something with a little more historical credence and with a better general story.