October 26, 2016 by kitmoss
MURMUR by Ryal Woods
ebook, 209 pages
Published October 11th 2013 by MLR Press
Aonghas’s mother died only moments after his birth, cutting him off from the only other being who is in touch with the entities known as the Sabball, the rulers of the senses. He must grow up virtually on his own with only the Five Senses themselves to guide him. But they are the kind of teachers who want him to find the answers to his own questions. It is not surprising then that the multi-heritage youth makes lots of arrogant mistakes.
Ryal Woods offers us a tantalizing story that is a mix of alternate history and fantasy, positing an Ireland that the Romans reached and settled into as they did in Britain. It is a romance, where feeling so cut off from his peers, that when a mysterious man enters Aonghas’shiding place understanding stones on the moor, he accepts and makes love to him though in the darkness he has no idea who or what it is. The man, known only as Maon, haunts his waking and sleeping life, cutting him off further from the companions he could potentially find among the people at his father’s stronghold. His one affair with a metalsmith named Sòlas fails to keep his attention, not only cheating them both of a strong bond but putting them both in danger. Let’s just say Aonghas has a whole lot of growing up to do.
Lucky for us readers, Aonghas has a remarkable author to help him through. This is one of those novels I really wish I had written. There is an elegance and poetic nature to the writing befitting the Celtic setting. Between the Irish names, whose meanings are significant (Aonghas is “unique”, Sòlas “solace”), the mystic settings, the fluidity of the language and in particular imagery, you are there, on the moor, in the caves, chilled and longing along with the protagonist.
This is a tale of the isolated seeker from conflicting cultures in who is torn between standing alone and strong and finding his place in the warmth of other hearts leads him to doubt himself while yet hastening forward into come-what-may. One brilliant insight on Woods’ part is how Aonghas is most drawn, in his isolation, to Maon whose name means “hero”, misleading to the incomplete protagonist, is his double and cannot complete him but only duplicate. A terrific story, itself elemental and compelling, will keep you glued to the book, but I predict you will come away with more of a haunted feeling of a magickal world.