Mark Thompkins's The Last Days of Magic starts with the premise that the Vatican has hidden at least some of the ancient sages' writings and that angels and demons, faeries and pixies once visibly roamed the earth. So what happened to these wielders of magic? They were driven from their last stronghold in Ireland to the Middle Kingdom, primarily by Catholic crusaders in the late 1300s.
Pulling on Norse mythology; Welsh, Gaelic, and Celtic legends; and English and European pagan history, Tompkins recounts the ultimate struggle for power over the human realm. The battle lines were drawn with Britain and the Vatican on one side and Celtic Ireland and their Sidhe on the other. Old World magical creatures and humans were left to determine which group could offer them their best future.
The Last Days of Magic can be read on several levels. For example, you can read it as an epic war story colored by great romances. You can also read it as a tale of Catholicism vs. the pagans--you decide which side you would have been on. No matter how you approach the novel, you'll have a lot to think about.
What was the nature of the pre-Catholic world? Did Jacob really wrestle an angel? Did King Solomon really have magical powers? Did pixies and leprechauns inhabit the Celtic lands? What kind of power did druids and witches control? You might also begin to question what you've been told by the Catholic Church. And, finally, you will wonder if the magic has truly been lost forever.
The novel was a bit of a slow start for me because there are quite a few characters, factions, and belief systems. But once the foundation was set and the political and battlefield action picked up, the story had my full attention. The Last Days of Magic is an emotional read. I was fully invested in the characters: hating some, rooting for others, and trying to figure out each one's long-term game plan.
Although the bulk of the novel takes place in the late fourteenth century, it is framed by a modern-day story. I understand the purpose of this frame and it did give me something more to think about, but I don't think it served as a strong anchor.
Regardless, Mark Tompkins's The Last Days of Magic is a smart, sometimes brutal, look at how the Church bled the world of all that didn't fit their agenda. The novel is recommended for anyone interested in fantasy, mythology, the rise of Catholicism, Ireland, magic, and pagan legends.
Note on the audiobook: I started out reading The Last Days of Magic in print but then switched to the audiobook (Penguin Audio; 14 hr, 44 min), read by Sile Bermingham. Bermingham's pronunciations of the Celtic and Welsh words seemed believable enough to me. I always appreciate knowing how a word is properly said (for example, the Celtic Sidhe sounds like she). On the down side, Bermingham did not clearly distinguish among the characters, so it was sometimes difficult to determine who was speaking. In addition, her European accents, especially Italian, often threatened to go over the top. Finally, moments of over-dramatization were distracting. I recommend reading this one in print.
For a sample of the audio, so you can make up your own mind, press play in the following widget.
Published by Penguin Random House / Viking Books, 2016
Source: Review--both print & audio (see review policy)
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