I didn’t tell Captain Fearnly that I was joining the garda as part of a plot to exonerate my parents and find a four-thousand-year-old mummy — and there is no place to enter this type of thing in the online application, so I just kept it to myself.
Last year, when Thomas Lennon was a guest on Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show #371, they spent some time talking about this book. I knew I had to give it a shot almost immediately. When I got home and found it on Goodreads, I was a little disappointed to find out it was for the MG crowd — I didn’t get that impression at all from his description (I may have missed something while driving). Still, I put it on the “To Read” list and kept an eye out for its publication. It still sounded like a good time.
And boy, oh, boy it was.
Ronan Boyle is a young man who watched his parents get arrested (in the middle of a family game night) and put into prison. They’re academics, and were found guilty of selling antiquities that belonged to the Irish government. As noted above, Ronan joined the Irish police as an intern, primarily as a way to . Until one night when he was recruited to help dealing with a leprechaun (he was the only one the right size to get where the leprechaun was keeping something). He did well enough with that assignment that he was immediately recruited for Garda Special Unit of Tir Na Nog — the supernatural division.
We follow Ronan through his training — imagine Hogwarts summarized in a hundred pages or so (although this is a shorter course of training) — what he and his fellow cadets (including a girl who thought she was a log for most of her life, and a medium-sized bear that may or may not have been a fellow cadet) go through is unlike any training program you’ve seen or read about. Yet it’s familiar enough that it feels comfortable. Then we see Ronan and his compatriots begin their garda careers in earnest.
Meanwhile, Ronan makes a little progress with the investigation to clear his parents. He also makes friends — from multiple species — and decides that he really likes berets. He’s a very unlikely hero — not terribly coordinated, skinny, as physically un-intimidating as you can possibly imagine with poor eyesight. He also has a strange obsession with Dame Judi Dench (not that Dench isn’t worth obsessing over, it’s just not someone many teen boys fixate on)
All in all, an entertaining story steeped in Irish lore, myth and culture — all very well-researched and lovingly told. I’d probably recommend it just on these grounds.
But it’s the way that Lennon tells this story that seals the deal. His voice is chatty, whimsical and infectious. The imagery, language, and overall feel is hilarious. Yes, I’d recommend the book just on the characters/plot. But I’d also recommend it for voice and style alone. For example:
It was a mysterious garda officer named Pat Finch, whose ghoulish face is so crisscrossed with bright red veins that it looks like a map of hell drawn by a monk in a medieval lunatic asylum. Pat Finch looks like what a heart attack would look like if it could walk around eating fish-and-chips and saying terrible things about Roscommon Football Club’s starting lineup.
“There’s a leprechaun navy?”
“Yes. Probably the least reliable fighting force in the known world,” replied the captain. “The leprechaun navy is basically a heavily armed musical-theater troupe with two boats.”
If you know Thomas Lennon as a performer, you’ll be able to “hear” significant portions in his voice. I think I saw that he does the audiobook,which is good — because otherwise you’d have to find someone who can do a decent impression of him to really pull of the cadence and rhythms of the text.
Oh, you must read the footnotes. All of them. They’re the best use of fictional footnotes since Lutz’ The Spellman Files or Bazell’s Beat the Reaper — except these are MG appropriate.
Hendrix’ illustrations fit the mood perfectly. Intricate, goofy, and skillful. They’re not essential, but they add a very welcome touch to the text.
This is ideal for MG readers who like early Riordan, but wouldn’t mind a bit more silliness and an Irish focus. Or for those who liked Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant books. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, ignore that (or go read them after you read this). It’s just a fun, goofy read with a touch of adventure. Perfect for MG readers or adults who don’t mind reading MG if it’s well-done. This is. At the end of the day, you need to pick up a copy just so you can read the back cover blurbs by Weird Al and Patton Oswalt, really. Of course, then you’ll want to read the thing based on what they say. So just save yourself the effort and get it.
The ending sets up at least one sequel and you can bet that I’ll be waiting for it.