This book follows 17-year-old Conor Archer, a musician in a Celtic band downtown Chicago whose mother is in the final stages of cancer. On the evening of his mother’s death, a strange biker named Rory — with rather sharp teeth as it turns out — yanks him outside the pub, bites him on the hand and tells him that he’s going to go through some major changes. On his way home, he encounters a beautiful woman by a fountain who bandages his wounded hand but then right before his eyes, transforms into an old hag, who tells him that he only has a short time to live unless he acts quickly.
When he returns home that night, his mother, right before she dies, tells him that he has to return to Tinker’s Grove, Wisconsin, an old Irish immigrant town along the banks of the Wisconsin River where he is to stay with his Aunt Emily. It was a hometown that he had never heard about nor had his mother ever mentioned it.
He takes a bus to Tinker’s Grove, and by the time he arrives, he’s almost delirious because of the infection and the heartbreak of his mother’s passing. He tells the people standing around him that his name is Conor Archer and someone decides to take him by a Native America burial mound in order to be healed. The evening holds in store some very bizarre events and Conor’s new friends watch in awe as he is mysteriously healed.
It’s at this point the Conor realizes that Tinker’s Grove is a very mysterious place, with the odd web-fingered and web-toed children of the town called “Dark Ones” who seem to have animal-like powers, talk of a dangerous and ancient river demon named Piasa (the Devourer of Souls), and a strange being who, as myth holds it, came from the ancient Celtic lands centuries ago and who supposedly inhabits the Indian burial mound.
The days get even stranger from there as Conor begins to physically change — to transform — into something that’s not altogether human, and people seem to see Conor as a sort of savior who can save them from the imminent battle between good and evil, as an ancient evil is about to rise and destroy everything in its path.
As we learn as the story moves forward, it’s up to Conor Archer to bring the balance back, but he can only do so by embracing his true nature.
WHAT I LIKED
I love the folklore and mythology aspect of the story, in which the author incorporated figures from myth such as The Morrigan along with entirely new mythology creating a unique and fresh story. I love how this story weaved in aspects of Irish culture, Native American myths and even some of the old Celtic gods and goddesses.
The author also did a fantastic job of painting a vivid and lifelike picture of the mythical town of Tinker’s Grove, along with all of its strange inhabitants and the mystery surrounding it. This is a town where everyone has secrets, and Conor has to work hard to discover them. Yes, there is evil about to be unleashed, and I loved the way that the author slowly built it up in the realistic characters and the vivid description of place.
I also enjoyed how the story slowly unraveled to reveal more about the colorful characters and their motivations – those characters both human and not — and how every secondary character was essential to the story’s denouement. But not only were they essential, they were incredibly interesting as well.
It was fun how Conor discovers that his ancestry and life are not at all what he had always thought and in fact, he is part of a much larger destiny in which the future of Tinker’s Grove — the future of the world, in fact — depends on his decisions.
Speaking of Conor, he was completely relatable in all of his confusion, doubts, fumbling, struggles and insecurities so in this way, it was easy to empathize with all that he was going as he began changing into the being he was always meant to be and as a reader, I felt that I was living vicariously through him. I loved seeing Conor’s immense character growth as the novel progressed, as he moved to a frightened teen to the story’s hero who had to face an ultimate evil head-on.
It was especially fun that the author didn’t tell us right off the bat what it was that Conor was turning into, which really added to the story’s intrigue and kept me turning the pages. In fact, it wasn’t until the last part of the book that we learn what Conor was transforming into and why.
The villains — and yes, there are several — were delightfully wicked and one particular evil creature was something right out of our childhood nightmares. So often, the villains in novel ended up being clichéd and caricatures — not in this book. The villains were complicated, complex and had reasons for everything they did. Likewise, the heroes were equally complicated and multi-layered.
I found the many different types of meticulously thought-out creatures in this story to be mesmerizing. I loved their descriptions and especially liked learning about their abilities, their pasts, and their motivations.
I thought that the world building in this book was phenomenal and I felt the author did a fantastic job of blending — and then reshaping — elements of mythology, ancient culture, modern culture, science and realistic magic to create something genuinely original and believable.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
There really wasn’t too much that I didn’t like about the novel.
This novel is incredibly long, just shy of six hundred pages, which probably could have used some additional editing. Though I did appreciate the attention to detail, there were parts of the novel that could have been cut and that dragged in places. But that being said, because of the length of the novel, the author was really able to flesh out all the characters and engage in some remarkably complex world-building.
There were also a lot of characters and a time or two when the narrative was jumping back and forth, I did get a tad confused. I also did find the dialog to be overly formal and stilted in several places.
This was a captivating, classic story of good and evil that I absolutely loved. This epic story had it all: heroes, demons, gods, goddesses, druids, fantasy, mystery and plenty of action which kept my interest right until the final page turn. It was a beautiful, emotional and haunting story — at times dark but ultimately hopeful — that is at once powerful and inspirational.
It is also a creative, beautifully written story with rich, detailed prose and evocative descriptions bordering on the poetic that sucked me right into the story. This was an exciting, breathtaking story with numerous plot twists, turns and revelations and a perfect blend of Celtic legend, Native American lore, and modern-day Wisconsin.
This is a journey that I’m so glad I took, and I ended up giving this book five stars.