Ronan Boyle And The Bridge Of Riddles by Thomas Lennon and John Hendrix

The Blurb On The Back:

To: Gentle Human Readers of This Book.

From: Office of the Deputy Commissioner

POLITE WARNING!

You have picked up the personal journals of one RONAN BOYLE, the youngest and lowliest recruit to the secret garda – the Irish police force that handles the misdeeds of numerous magical creatures.

Despite Ronan’s small size, horrible eyesight, absurd number of allergies, and social awkwardness, he knows he’s the only one who can prove that his parents were UNJUSTLY IMPRISONED. To prove their innocence, Ronan must venture into TIR NA NOG, the land of the leprechauns.

This account features hair-raising and disturbing tales of law-breaking LEPRECHAUNS, sly FAERIE folk, and a mysterious and probably evil man named LORD DESMOND DOOLEY.

It also features acts of HEROISM and SACRIFICE, deep and lasting FRIENDSHIPS, reasonably priced FOOD, and the world’s best Irish wolfhound, LILY.

READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!

You can order Ronan Boyle And The Bridge Of Riddles by Thomas Lennon and John Hendrix from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

14-year-old Ronan Boyle used to live a perfectly normal life in Dublin with his parents – Brendan and Fiona – who both worked as curators for the National Museum of Ireland. But 2 years earlier his parents were arrested and convicted of treasure hunting and selling treasure trove, including an ancient bog man, and now Ronan lives with his court appointed guardian, Delores (a former intern at the Museum who now busks for a living) in Galway.

Ronan is convinced that his parents were set up. Sure, they used to do some treasure hunting with metal detectors in their spare time and they kept a lab in the basement of their house but that was only to run tests on pieces and clean them up before giving them to the Museum. He’s sure that Lord Desmond Dooley is the one who set them up – he had visited them before their arrest and stolen the Bog Man, before planting thousands of Euros in their home and testifying that they were selling him artefacts.

To prove his parents’ innocence, Ronan takes an internship with the local Garda station. But as a small, skinny boy with more allergies than you can shake a stick at, he’s not a natural fit for the police service and his parents’ convictions mean that he can never get top security clearance anyway. Then one night he’s given instructions to go to Clifden Castle where he meets Captain Siobhán de Valera of the Tir Na Nog Garda and discovers that leprechauns, faeries, unicorns and all kinds of other fantastical beasts are real and capable of committing crimes that need policing. Better yet, the Tir Na Nog Garda are recruiting for new cadets …

Thomas Lennon’s fantasy novel for children aged 9+ (the first in a series and illustrated by John Hendrix) relies heavily on Oirish stereotypes and the world building never really gels (particularly the link between the fantasy and real world elements) and feels intended for an older audience. There are some laughs from the dialogue but the pacing is uneven and the cliff hanger ending didn’t interest me enough to want to read the sequel.

I’ll begin by saying that I think many of my issues with this book could have been resolved if it was reworked for an older tween/YA audience. Some of Lennon’s jokes and the constant references to leprechauns and other fae folk drinking whiskey, hostess clubs and using pickles to basically get high just didn’t seem to me to be a good fit for 9-year-old readers and some jokes seemed likely to go over their head. I also think that the book suffers from having a very US-centered view of Ireland such that the characters are more Oirish than Irish and stereotypes abound to the point where I had to stop rolling my eyes because it was beginning to hurt too much. There also all kinds of weird inconsistencies with the supposed ‘real’ world that Ronan lives that make the plot seem incredibly artificial – most notably the idea that a 14-year-old boy can just rock up and start being an intern for the police. The other thing that bothered me was the use of footnotes, which I found incredibly inconsistent, e.g. Lennon feels the need to footnote that “Garda” is the term for the Irish police force and that “coaches” mean buses but expects readers to know what kabuki means without context. All this worked to mean that I found it very difficult to suspend my belief enough to want to buy in to what happens to Ronan in this book.

That’s a shame because I think that Ronan has a fair amount of potential. It’s interesting to read about someone who is small and weedy for his age and who makes mistakes (a lot of mistakes) and yet has the strength to keep going. I liked some of the supporting characters – specifically Log (a human who was kidnapped by the faerie as a baby and grew up in Tir Na Nog and who has grown up a little strange as a result) and Captain de Valera is an interesting mentor character who I wanted to see more of (especially following a scene where she’s enchanted to fall in love with a leprechaun she’s trying to arrest).

Lennon also has some good jokes within the book – I especially liked the running gag about Tim the Medium-Sized Bear who no one is sure is trying to be a cadet in the Tir Na Nog or is just an actual bear who has wandered in by mistake and I enjoyed the scenes where Ronan goes to visit his parents in gaol and becomes increasingly perturbed that they appear to have joined rival prison gangs. However the pacing is really uneven, which highlights how thin the actual story is and how it’s pretty much all set-up to get to the really meaty stuff in Book 2. The backstory about Ronan’s parents was also a little hard to sympathise with given that they’d clearly not been up to much good in the first place and Lord Desmond Dooley simply doesn’t get the page time to establish himself as an antagonist (in fact, his leprechaun sidekick is much more interesting given a revelation at the end of the book).

I liked John Hendrix’s illustrations – especially of the Wolfdew, which is where Lily and the other wolfhounds live. However there’s simply not enough here to hold my attention and notwithstanding the cliffhanger ending, I can’t say that I’m interested enough to want to check out the sequel.

RONAN BOYLE AND THE BRIDGE OF RIDDLES was released in the United Kingdom on 5th March 2019. Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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