The way I read has changed dramatically from when I was a teenager and child. Our house was packed with books, and I read a lot, but mostly, I reread the books we had over and over again. I didn't go after new books with an acquisitive air, adding to my repertoire only occasionally. Don't get me wrong, I read a lot. But a lot of that was rereading.
When I moved in with my boyfriend (now husband) and we lived a block and a half from the central branch of the local library, I started to venture into more new books, and that eventually became the main focus of my reading, only exacerbated years later when I started reviewing books. Now I struggle to find time to reread books, and I miss the cozy familiarity of slipping back into prose you know even more intimately than you realize.
Back when I was rereading a lot more, Morgan Llywelyn was one of my go-to authors. I just devoured her novels on Irish myth and history, every one I could find in a used bookstore, or very occasionally new. Somehow, though, I never found a copy of her novel about Cuchulain to read.
So after I had taken the day off to go to the library sale in my new city this year, when I found Red Branch on the SF/F table for a buck, I snapped it up. A chance to return, not to books I knew and loved, but to an author that I was very familiar with and subject matter I enjoyed. It always takes me most of the year to make it through my pile of library book sale books, since I mix them in with my other lists, but this was one of the first I cracked open.
There is that particular pleasure of slipping into prose you know although you don't know the words, to themes and even characters that seem so familiar because honestly, the author does tend to rely on some of the same tropes and character quirks across books. It might not be a sign of stretching yourself as an artist, but there's something deeply comforting to come back to an author (one of her older books, admittedly) and enjoy it.
This is the story of Cuchulain, drawing heavily on Irish myth and fleshing the characters out in ways that are not new or surprising, but then again, that was never what I went to Llywelyn for. We get the pangs of Ulster, the Gae Bulga, the overweening ambitions of Maeve of Connaught, Cuchulain's own Rage, and little vignettes from the Morrigan.
You know early that Cuchulain will die young, and that it's a fate he chooses himself - where Llywelyn drives the knife home is through his own gradual realization that life is not about a blaze of glory - but by the time he realizes that, it's far too late.
Reading this was like coming home again, and not much had been moved on the mantel, but that's exactly what I wanted.