Not all promises can be kept.
Four-year-old Eiryn doesn’t understand why her mother left her, but she knows things will never be the same again. When Eiryn tries to call for water during her mother’s funeral, everything starts to go wrong. Her uncle is always sad; her best friend is always getting himself into fights; some of the other children hate her… Sometimes Eiryn even struggles to get through the day. She’s determined to make everyone happy, though. Eiryn promised and even if her mother won’t keep her word Eiryn will keep hers. She’ll make everything right again.
Source: Bought it
Disclaimer: Lynn is a good friend of mine and I’ve read this story in various incarnations, some of which go back years when characters had different names and histories. However, I’ve tried to make my review as honest and unbiased as possible.
This book is sad and subtle and beautiful and adorable – how could it not be when the main protagonist is a four-year-old girl dealing with the death of her mother and struggling to understand the change in her life and the confusing emotions of the adults around her? Eiryn is a bright child, but she’s also very sensitive. Her moods are as changeable and capricious as any child her age, yet she also has a deeper streak of intelligence and understanding that make her compelling to read about.
The world Eiryn lives in is also detailed and cleverly wrought. If you have troubles understanding different languages or remembering difficult words, it might take you a while to adjust because there are a lot of new words introduced here, but they all have a real purpose and place, whether it’s personal honorifics, designations of gender or dealing with the strange and delicate magic of Eiryn’s people, they are there for a reason and add a beautiful layer of detail to the story.
Speaking of that story, this one might seem simply on the surface – a girl dealing with grief, an uncle navigating tricky political waters to keep her safe – but has so many hidden and depths and layers that lift it far above that. It can’t be easy to tell a story from a young child’s POV, but O’Connacht handles things well, maintaining Eiryn’s confusion and innocence while leaving enough information for the reader to pick up. Alongside grief and depression, this story also addresses bullying, racial prejudice and xenophobia, as well as transgender and non-binary gendered characters. It’s far from a simple tale about a little girl, and it’s all the richer for it.
Not everything is told from Eiryn’s POV either. I really enjoyed the scenes with her uncle Aren, not just because the adult viewpoint is more detailed and complex and capable of explaining things in a more accessible way, but because I love Aren’s character. He is troubled and grieving too, but his struggles to take care of Eiryn are touching and exasperating and wonderfully done – the scene at the mirror is just heartbreaking, and the scene with the doll is beyond adorable. This is a story full of flawed characters, from the bullies and political opponents, to the good guys. Nothing is perfect, shallow or straightforward and I enjoyed the depth. I also love old Anou – he’s wonderful.
Okay, if I’m honest, there are a few things I would have liked to be better explained – the magic in particular and the way Lir fits in with the rest of the world. These people are very rigid and complicated and I don’t always feel like this is explained as deeply as I might have liked, but Eiryn’s not exactly in a position to explain such things and there is a good glossary included at the end that goes a long way to filling in such gaps.
Overall, though, this is a lovely tale, sad and sweet in all the right places, with a good range of characters and an adorable little heroine. If you like a richly developed world and enjoy diversity in your reading, then you should enjoy this. It might even make you think – especially about dyscalculia and bullying – which is never a bad thing. I can’t wait to read more about Eiryn and Aren soon.
A Promise Broken is Out Now!
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