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Flint and Mirror: A Novel of History and…
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Flint and Mirror: A Novel of History and Magic (edition 2022)

by John Crowley (Author)

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442510,584 (3.38)None
"Crowley is generous, obsessed, fascinating, gripping. Really, I think Crowley is so good that he has left everybody else in the dust."--Peter Straub From award-winning author John Crowley comes a novel that masterfully blends history and magic in Flint and Mirror. As ancient Irish clans fought to preserve their lands and their way of life, the Queen and her generals fought to tame the wild land and make it English. Hugh O'Neill, lord of the North, dubbed Earl of Tyrone by the Queen, is a divided man: the Queen gives to Hugh her love, and her commandments, through a little mirror of obsidian which he can never discard; and the ancient peoples of Ireland arise from their underworld to make Hugh their champion, the token of their vow a chip of flint. From the masterful author of Little, Big comes an exquisite fantasy of heartbreaking proportion.… (more)
Member:TheDivineOomba
Title:Flint and Mirror: A Novel of History and Magic
Authors:John Crowley (Author)
Info:Tor Books (2022), 256 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:***1/2
Tags:2022, Fantasy, Country:England, Country:Ireland, History, Library Book

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Flint and Mirror by John Crowley

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This is a weird book for me to review. It seems like all the majority of the action happens out of frame, described after or before, with just a line or two, about the results or strategy. O'Neill is a flawed character, owing allegiances to both the English and the Irish, sitting a tight line between the kingdoms to make sure his people have the best chance of survival and the best chance of winning their freedom back from the English. its a brutal world, where children are put in dungeons as ransom, where whole villages are destroyed. While the novel is fantasy, it is based on reality. The public events of the book happened. I hadn't realized how the English took Ireland, the beginning of their colonialism.

The language is beautiful. John Crowley has a way with words that can articulate a complete sense of a person, in a sentence or two. But, with only a sentence or two, the brutality of a person can easily by missed, for example, only a few sentences are devoted to Hugh's fiery temper, and quick to action. I'm glad a read it - its not a book I would have read if I knew that it was more historical fiction, rather than actual a book of "History and Magic". ( )
  TheDivineOomba | Nov 24, 2022 |
John Crowley’s Flint and Mirror brims with fascinating, well-crafted history. Sadly, the accompanying magic feels less essential.

The story is primarily set in 16th-century Ireland following Queen Elizabeth’s assumption of the English throne. Her father, Henry VIII (the second monarch of the infamous Tudor dynasty), had already begun England’s shift to Protestantism and conquest of Ireland. Much of its people remained staunchly Catholic, however, and Elizabeth sought to finish bringing the isle to heel.

Crowley’s protagonist is Hugh O’Neill, heir to a line of Irish royalty. Flint and Mirror tells the tale of O’Neill’s long life in a short span of pages, chronicling his early days as an English ward—brought to London under the premise that “like an eyas falcon, a young Irish lord if taken early enough might later come more willingly to the English wrist”—his rise to power in Ireland, and his eventual rebellion against his former colonial benefactors.

There’s much to admire here. Crowley relates the brutality of the occupying English forces without casting O’Neill as a wholly innocent hero. Flint and Mirror also gives a sense of larger happenings in Europe, often from unexpected vantages. (My favorite example: when a minor character watches a storm wreck wayward ships of the Spanish Armada upon a rocky section of the Irish coast. O’Neill then takes in some of the survivors—allies in the fight against Protestant England—and shelters them until the time comes to wage “the last war against … the Queen’s armies.”)

And the prose is gorgeous. Some memorable lines:

- “The Earl looked down on himself, the red curls of his breast gone gray, the scars and welts where no hair grew. The land that was himself, in all its history.”

- "With a great yawn, a gulp of morning, he awoke entirely at last.”

- “As though she were some fabulous many-walled fort, mined and breached, through the slashings and partings of her outer dress another could be seen, and where that was opened there was another, and lace beneath that.”

Yet Crowley casts Flint and Mirror as a historical fantasy without making the fantasy consequential.

The two objects in the title are magical artifacts given to O’Neill during his youth. One is of Irish origin, the other English. But despite suggestions that they might allow him to summon mythical allies to his aid or spy on his enemies, we never see him wield these powers in meaningful fashion. We’re also told there’s a larger “war in heaven” underway, but this doesn’t play out on the page either. Mostly, the magic in Flint and Mirror serves the symbolic function of explaining O’Neill’s conflicting loyalties (and perhaps doubles as a larger metaphor for Ireland’s fraught relationship with England). For similar reasons, I wish the subplot featuring an Irish woman and a creature of legend had impacted the main storyline.

To repeat, though, Crowley’s writing is beautiful—more than good enough to keep me going through the sections where I wondered whether Flint and Mirror should have been straight historical fiction. Here’s another quote to whet your appetite (a description of the Spanish sailors O’Neill rescued): “Only when they were called to war at last, given arms and armor from the hidden stores of the earl of Ulster and the lord of Tyrconnell and ordered to the south for the last battle, did they inspire fear as they went: dressed in white, as they had when they were seamen, daghaidhe duvh, dark of face, they would seem as they moved over the land to be of that black tribe of the O’Donahues that cast no shadow. Yet they went in hope to join their old ships, that were sailing again for Ireland from Spain: to join the fight against the English on Ireland’s behalf, and on the side of those who had saved them.”

Stirring stuff in any genre, and worth reading in full.

(For more reviews like this one, see www.nickwisseman.com) ( )
  nickwisseman | Jun 11, 2022 |
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"Crowley is generous, obsessed, fascinating, gripping. Really, I think Crowley is so good that he has left everybody else in the dust."--Peter Straub From award-winning author John Crowley comes a novel that masterfully blends history and magic in Flint and Mirror. As ancient Irish clans fought to preserve their lands and their way of life, the Queen and her generals fought to tame the wild land and make it English. Hugh O'Neill, lord of the North, dubbed Earl of Tyrone by the Queen, is a divided man: the Queen gives to Hugh her love, and her commandments, through a little mirror of obsidian which he can never discard; and the ancient peoples of Ireland arise from their underworld to make Hugh their champion, the token of their vow a chip of flint. From the masterful author of Little, Big comes an exquisite fantasy of heartbreaking proportion.

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