book review: the gold-son

The Gold-Son by Carrie Anne Noble
Skyscape, 304 pp.
Published June 20, 2017

DISCLAIMER: I received a free finished copy of this book as a giveaway prize from Skyscape hosted on Goodreads.

All sixteen-year-old Tommin wants is to make beautiful shoes and care for his beloved granny, but his insatiable need to steal threatens to destroy everything. Driven by a curse that demands more and more gold, he’s sure to get caught eventually.

When mysterious Lorcan Reilly arrives in town with his “niece,” Eve, Tommin believes the fellow wants to help him. Instead, Lorcan whisks him off to the underground realm of the Leprechauns, where, alongside Eve, he’s forced to prepare to become one of them.

As Lorcan’s plans for his “gold-children” are slowly revealed, Tommin and Eve plan their escape. But with Tommin’s humanity slipping away, the fate-crossed pair has everything to lose unless they can find a way to outsmart a magical curse centuries in the making.

The Gold-Son truly is a tale of two books for me. Its first half progresses with promise, alternating viewpoints between Tommin and his fellow gold-child Eve. Held captive by the ambitious Lorcan, who hopes to seize the leprechaun throne for himself with the help of a bevy of powerful apprentices, they struggle to maintain their humanity against a growing curse. Yet a major skip ahead in time undoes all of the author's hard work and irrevocable stalls the plot just as it was gaining momentum. It was a change I never recovered from as a reader that greatly diminished my enjoyment of the book. There were a few positives, though, particularly in the first half!

LIKED: Beautiful prose that brings 19th century Ireland and the faerie world to life!

Noble possesses an undeniable gift for descriptive imagery. Even though the subterranean Leprechaun realm is often described as dark and cramped—for lowly apprentices in particular—she brings a magical light to an under-described fantasy realm. The sparkling allure of gold and silver contrasts with the grey, mushroom-y sludge that Tommin and Eve rely on for sustenance. Lorcan's fine clothes cut from velvet and silk hint at the luxury revealed in all its glory during a pilgrimage to the royal seat. This descriptive power also flatters nineteenth-century Ireland, evoking a quaint and colorful little village as Tommin's home. A reader can easily lose herself in these fully-realized worlds, which are made all the more delightful for how rarely I come across them in fiction.

DISLIKED: The focus on Tommin as a main character, rather than Eve.

Tommin's connection to the leprechaun world begins with a curse, creating a talent for shoe-making and an insatiable appetite for gold. This curse also makes him a single-minded, generally weak-willed character, particularly as his indoctrination as a leprechaun progresses. Nevertheless, his condition makes Tommin a fairly passive character throughout the story; Eve shows much more initiative yet her chapters are shorter and more sparsely doled out between Tommin's. It's a structural decision that makes the story feel as though its dragging, even when Eve continues to plot and plan off-page. Tommin may inspire sympathy for his plight, but I would prefer to follow the story as a whole through the eyes of a character that takes a much more active role.

LIKED: Choosing a less-common myth to be the focus of the story.

I don't know if I've ever come across a fantasy novel that focuses on leprechauns! This bold choice attracted me to The Gold-Son and helped hold my interest after I may have otherwise given up. Noble takes advantage of the topic's rarity by filling in every conceivable hole or ambiguity in their legend, tossing in a few familiar fae creatures to keep the story anchored. The concept of a curse and initiation process to create more leprechauns is creepily imaginative. I really respect an author who veers off the beaten path to try something new and untested. Even if the overall story wound up not working for me as much as I would have liked, the unique world and the beautiful writing Noble employed to build it were both major positives.

DISLIKED: Pretty much the entire second half of the book...

A little more than halfway through The Gold-Son, a significant time jump brings the story into the modern day. The focus shifts almost entirely onto Tommin and much of what I loved about the faerie world-building disappears as he tries to survive in the mortal world above. More generally, the plot completely derails, losing whatever momentum it had from Eve's scheme for freedom. This marked the point of no return for me; even though the action picks back up a little near the end—accompanied by some head-scratching faerie "technology"—it's far from enough to undo the damage. I wish that I had been able to take better advantage of the strengths of The Gold-Son, but unfortunately an uncompelling protagonist and stalled plot were too much for the excellent writing to overcome.


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