Book Review: The Lone City trilogy


This trilogy, kicking off with The Jewel, was pitched as dystopian on its release, but although it has much in common with recent dystopian trilogies – walled-in cities of privilege, girls meeting cute rebellious boys – it’s actually fantasy, with no clear link to our own society. Instead, Violet Lasting, the narrator of the three volumes (there are also two novellas, from the point of view of supporting characters) discovers that she and the other ‘surrogates’ purchased by wealthy families are the descendants of a magical race that lived on the island long ago. From the beginning we see they have magical powers that mean they can affect colour, shape and growth of the objects around them – the third, of course, being crucial in their role as baby-making vessels for the nobility within the Jewel.

There is plenty that feels derivative here, but I’m an absolute sucker for novels that look at female bodily autonomy, and I raced through these books. Even though the relationship between Violet and ‘companion’ (male prostitute) Ash is completely uninteresting, it’s not the most important one in the series. Both Violet and her best friend Raven have been abused by the women who own them, and those dynamics are fascinating. Violet’s friendship with the leader of the rebellion, Lucien – an inventor and ‘lady-in-waiting’ who’s been castrated – is also engaging, propelling the action as Violet moves from docile surrogate to a powerful rebel. I love the way the trilogy looks at gender and what it means to be abused, in all kinds of ways. I adored the darkness of the medical treatments the surrogates are subjected to. It sounds strange to describe reading these books as ‘enjoyable’, given the upsetting content, but the hopeful – if hard-earned – ending is satisfying.

(In short: anything that pitches itself as ‘The Handmaid’s Tale meets X’ will always delight me.)

Banshee update!


Issue #3 of Banshee is available now and will be launching in Dublin, in Books Upstairs (D’Olier Street) on Wednesday 12th October from 6.30pm. Join us for readings, wine and writerly chat!

Banshee editor Eimear Ryan will also be taking part in the Publishing Salon in the Liquor Rooms this Wednesday (5th October) from 7pm.

Submissions for Issue #4 (spring 2017) are open from now until the end of October. We’re looking for short stories, flash fiction, essays and poetry – full details at the link.

Other upcoming literary events of interest: The Glass Shore (ed. Sinead Gleeson), a collection of short stories from Northern Irish women writers, launches this Wednesday in Hodges Figgis. Illuminate, Kerrie O’Brien’s debut full-length poetry collection, launches in Books Upstairs on Thursday.

Book Review: The Wonder


to observe
to guard someone, as a keeper
to be awake, as a sentinel
a division of the night

In a small Irish midlands town, eleven-year-old Anna O’Donnell appears to be subsisting on nothing but air. This is 1859 and the country is still haunted by the Great Famine, and twenty years away from strange happenings in Knock. Visitors to the O’Donnell’s cottage leave gifts and donations to the poor, drawn to this ‘wee wonder’, this miraculous child who has surely been selected by God.

Determined to verify that she really is going without food, the locals form a committee and agree to hire nurses to watch the girl. One an old nun, and the other Lib Wright, an English nurse trained by Florence Nightingale – Miss N. – in the Crimea. Lib is our entry point into this strange world, and as someone not steeped in the strange rituals of Roman Catholicism and Celtic lore, she’s ideally situated to echo what a modern reader will certainly think: they’re all mad. She’s determined to prove that this is all a fraud – but her careful observations reveal nothing about how this girl is managing to survive.

The mystery of that – and then the why of it – propel the story along, and Donoghue’s eye for detail means you’re immersed in this odd place and time. Lib is modern and practical, frequently frustrated and bemused by the Irish, although their representation never crosses over into caricature. And as the mystery unfurls it all feels terribly familiar – the grasp of the church and faith on people, and what that can lead to. The secrecy, the treatment of girls and women. The people of the nineteenth century believed themselves to be modern and civilised. So do we.

But thematic matters aside, it’s just a damn good read – I zipped through it, eager to find out what would happen next, intrigued by Lib and Anna and charmed by the young reporter who comes along to investigate the ‘wonder’. It’s gorgeously written and magnificently plotted, a smart psychological thriller about the slow death of a child. Very very much recommended.

September happenings!


Hello! I’m flying across the treacherous Irish Sea for the #2 reason Irish women do so – work! Do pop in if you’re around… tickets are available from links below.

Also! Look what’s on Kindle sale this month…

(I hereby promise that the next blog post here will be less self-promotey and all about other people’s lovely books. Have just finished the new Emma Donoghue and it is gorgeous…)

More recent scribblings


  • I love, love, love school stories. So I chatted to Jenny Colgan about her ‘Malory Towers for grownups’ series, which has just been reissued under her own name (the first two books were originally published under ‘Jane Beaton’).
  • I also asked five Irish children’s and YA writers about their favourite school stories. Enid Blyton proved a firm favourite.
  • On picture books and other beautiful books of joy, including the new Oliver Jeffers/Sam Winston collaboration.