Savage Her Reply
by Deirdre Sullivan
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Pub Date 03 Oct 2023 | Archive Date 03 Oct 2023
Publisher Spotlight, Little Island Books
A feminist retelling of favourite Irish fairytale The Children of Lir.
Aífe marries Lir, a chieftain with four children by his previous wife. Jealous of his affection for his children, the witch Aífe turns them into swans for 900 years. Retold through the voice of Aífe, Savage Her Reply is unsettling and dark, yet nuanced in its exploration of the guilt of a complex character.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 14 members
I've been waiting for the US release of this book for a while now, and finally being able to read it was like being able to scratch an itch I'd had for too long--as someone unfamiliar with the story of the Children of Lir, the pieces of the original story were very helpful and the calligrams were a unique touch!
I really enjoyed this story, and while I was a little disappointed that Aife's story seemed to end about halfway and it became more about the Four, I probably should have expected that--the last few chapters more than made up for my wee bit of disappointment, so all's well that ends well!
I didn’t know anything about the fairy tale The Children of Lir, and I thought this was a great retelling of it. Even though I didn’t know anything about the original tale but it was a beautifully done tale. Deirdre Sullivan has a great writing style and it left me wanting to read more from the author.
Thank you so much to NetGalley and the publish for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
This book was such a refreshing book. I love stories that are retellings of myths and fairytales. This book gives us look at a gray character. In my personal opinion, it is very hard to create gray characters because they are not your basic cookie cutter of good and evil. They have a layer of complexity to them. I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for something different and something that is not what you think. The author of this book did a wonderful job in making sure Aife was a complex character and that to me is what brought this book to life.
I found the prose of this book to be extremely tedious and ended up DNFing. To me, it read like a summary or an outline. It's primarily the character telling her story through internal narrative (as opposed to giving us real-time scenes) and it didn't work for me. I was interested in this book based on the wider critical feedback it has received, and knowing the fairy tale that it's based on, so I was interested to see what would be changed. Ultimately, I didn't find it enjoyable to read, and the narrative choices made me indifferent to the characters, which is why I gave up. I recognize that this type of storytelling--long narrative paragraphs that cover significant swathes of time and almost no dialogue--isn't something that I enjoy. If that's something that works for you, there is a high probability that you will enjoy this book more than I did.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC. I wish this author all the best and hope that this book finds its way into the hands of better suited readers.
It’s a very unique way to tell a story. It was a very interesting read and for the most part it was enjoyable. But it dragged and I had to push myself to finish. The story was nice but the characters lacked something.
TL;DR - A lush, searing, deeply personal story about how the wounds we take on in childhood shape the rest of our lives and those of everyone around us. Heartbreaking, haunting, and unapologetically feminist, this book is an exploration of what if means to be human, so beautifully-written that it ceases to be a retelling and becomes a myth itself.
Big thanks to Publisher Spotlight, Little Island Books, and NetGalley for providing the ARC for this book in exchange for an honest review!
***Trigger warnings for depression, mental illness, grief, and suicidal ideation.***
“I was the foster-daughter of a king. I was the wife of Lir. And most importantly I was myself. I could unmake him with a wave of my hand and it would not be the worst thing I had done that day.”
‘Savage Her Reply’ by Deirdre Sullivan is a retelling of the Irish myth “The Children of Lir”, but told from the perspective Aífe, the (rightly) vilified stepmother of the titular children. It follows Aífe from her earliest memories as a girl sent to live under the roof of a distant king alongside her sisters, to her complicated and lonely adolescence, and on into her life as the third wife of Lir. We watch as she struggles with wounds both new and old, with grief over her sister’s death, and with the challenges that come with being the alienated stepmother to her four nephews and niece, all culminating in the fateful day that made her the villain we know today.
Oh my actual goodness, this was so good! I’m always leery of retellings, knowing that the best of intentions can quickly turn sour (looking at you, Ariadne), but this was more than a pleasant surprise - an entire delight, honestly.
The prose is stunningly gorgeous. It’s hard for me to even convey just how good it is, but I hope the few quotes I’ve included here give you enough of a taste to want to read it for yourself. There are long stretches were I have at least one line from each page highlighted, if not multiple, and sometimes even a whole page because it’s just so beautiful and profound. I found that the whole book was lush and poetic, but I really feel that the best prose was contained from 30% to 55% of the book.
The plot is solid overall, but I would really consider this more of a character study than a plot-driven book (which I loved!). The narrative does sort of meander sometimes, but Aífe herself admits to this in her narration, that she’s old, she’s tired, she’s been though a lot, and she’s narrating this story from the present-day some 2,000 years after some of it takes place. It’s endearing to me personally, that she has so much character even in ways that don’t relate to her voice, but it was admittedly a little jarring until she explained why and I got used to it. The slowest part of this book is definitely the first 1/3, where she’s recounting her life from her earliest memories until her marriage to Lir - it’s still interesting, but not nearly as much as how her life plays out after her marriage.
I really like how the author gives us the standard version of events (from the well-know myth) at the start of a chapter, and then jumps back into the first-person narrative to let Aífe tell her version of it. Which, she tells us, may or may not be the full truth, which adds an intriguing level of uncertainty to her narration that I enjoyed.
“Lir will say that I have lost my wits, and perhaps I have. Perhaps I am a dark, unpleasant creature. But I am my own creature. I am mine, my feet on the earth and the water in my soul and fire in my heart. And when all is taken from me, I will still have my anger and my pain and they will feed me.”
Speaking of Aífe: I love her so incredibly much. I needed to read about her struggles, and I am so glad that I’m fortunate enough to. She is complex and relatable, even in the horrible things she does. She feels like a real person who struggles with real issues, and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with her for the duration of this book. She’s written in such a way that, yes, of course I don’t agree at all with what she does, but I still understand it keenly and on such a deep level, and I empathize heavily with her. And she takes responsibility for her wrongdoings! Love that for her. It’s not hand-waved or explained away as “I’m just misunderstood”, she takes hundreds of years to grieve for what she did, to accept that she was wrong and that she can never take back what she did, which I personally found cathartic (even though I’m boring and have never once turned children into swans). It’s so profoundly satisfying to watch as she comes to terms with everything she’s done, everything that led up to that, and to begins to make amends as best she can. A perfect representation of the journey through and out of trauma and healing that I really, deeply appreciated.
On that note, I really like that the author gives realistic, relatable depth to many aspects of Aífe’s story. In the legend, the book says, she pretended to be ill for a year because she was jealous of her stepchildren. In this version, she is dealing with depression, grief, depersonalization, and childhood emotional wounds, which leads to a prolonged depressive episode. I deeply appreciate how the author thoughtfully and artfully gives nuance to the demonization of Aífe in the modern version, which so many retellings lack. This doesn’t absolve her of her transgressions, but rather provides context that takes her from one-dimensional villain to a living, breathing person who’s just as prone to vice (and virtue) as we all are. The author also doesn’t shy away from the way those in power (especially men) rewrite events and control lasting narratives to elevate themselves and oppress women, and there were a lot of deep feminist insights that I’m grateful to see explored.
This book, at its core, more than being a rich re-imagining, is a profound exploration of grief, of the horror of what we do when we’re consumed by it, and the long process it takes to understand what we did and why, and to accept responsibility and blame and begin to make amends. Really beautifully done.
Love, love, loved this! I will definitely be adding a physical copy of this to my shelves!
Thank you to NetGalley for a copy of this ARC.
Savage Her Reply is a very interesting retelling of the Irish fairy tale The Children of Lir. The author took a very creative way of writing this story and at first, I wasn't sure if this creative way was the best way to execute this story. But my doubts were quickly put at ease as the story unraveled in such an interesting way and through beautiful prose. A story of sisterly bonding, of grief and guilt, and true layers to an incredible protagonist. The artwork is beautiful and helps enhance the imagination in the story.
Thank you to NetGalley for a copy of this ARC.
"Savage Her Reply" by Deirdre Sullivan is a captivating retelling of the Children of Lir myth. Through its focus on the character of Aoife, rich prose, and thought-provoking themes, it offers a fresh and enchanting perspective on this classic story, making it a must-read for both mythology enthusiasts and newcomers alike. Sullivan's innovative approach breathes new life into the age-old tale, making it a memorable literary experience.
I want to also add that for someone who has mood stability issues, such as myself, the reading material is potentially triggering.
Savage Her Reply is gorgeously told. This book feels like a piece of art rather than a novel. I enjoyed the prose style of writing and it was a welcome break from my typical reads. I recommend Savage Her Reply to all readers!
With such a gorgeous cover, this retelling of an Irish legend immediately drew my eye.
Aífe, second wife to Lir, curses the four children of her sister to live as swans for nine hundred years.
It’s a very unusual choice to make the narrator such an unlikable character. But I think part of the appeal that kept me writing is that Aífe is very self aware of herself and her flaws.
As soon as I finished, I raced to see if there’s going to be an audiobook released. The lyrical nature of the storytelling, the distracted asides, they begged to be told orally. So I’ve preordered my own copy now.
I just wish this had been longer. The story covers 900 years of living and Aífe’s character development felt almost point by point, just moments. I would have loved to have seen the foundation laid a little more strongly.
I have also put a hold on Sullivan’s Tangleweed and Brine, as I am very interested in reading more of her work.
My thanks to NetGalley and Little Island Books.