Review: The Hounds of Nemhain, Kathy Cecala

This enjoyable young adult novel is set on an island just off the coast of Ireland in 350 A.D. Bran, a teenage boy who leaves his inland village to journey to the coast, is taken by a group of outlaws and has to survive among them — not quite a slave but not quite free, either.

The historic detail of the novel is convincing and transporting, both in the portrayal of daily life and the relationships of different ethnicities and social classes. Regarding the everyday details, Bran comes from a realistically middling-poor family, is not familiar with glass, and does not know what snakes are, either.  (I learned that Ireland is snake-free just a few years ago, thanks to an exhibit at a nature center which I viewed with my children. One of the many things I have learned for which I can thank my kids.)

Regarding the classes of Fourth Century Ireland and Britain: Romans have subjugated southern Britain, of course; but even among the Irish, neighboring groups do not get along and strangers often try to exploit each other. Irish villagers living just a few days’ journey inland are not familiar with coast residents, and vice versa.

Furthermore, due to the “globalization” sparked by the Roman Empire, other foreigners who are not from the British Isles nor Rome either are preyed upon by the raiders.

The plot moves along well; Bran is very aware that he is coming of age, and he asserts himself. The engaging characters include a strong young Irish woman; a well-drawn, pragmatic raider; a displaced young Roman; and others.

My only quibble is the recommended age range for readers; the back cover says 14+, but I think it’s fine for 12 and up.

This book is described as one of a series about the small Irish island; the other volume that has been published to date is far removed in time from this one, and Hounds stands alone.


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