At the end of the first millennium, Ireland, like many places in Europe, was divided into a number of warring states. Additionally, the Norse had major settlements along the east coast, including Dublin. At this time a man, Brian Boru, rose to become high king of a large part of the future Ireland. Brian Boru: Ireland’s Warrior King tells the story of Boru’s rise to power and his eventual end.
The story is mostly told from the point of view of Gormfhlaith, the woman who would become Boru’s wife. But not before she made many prior political alliances, one of which resulted in a son. So by the time she made an alliance with Boru through marriage, he had sons he wanted to see on the throne and she had a son whom she wanted to see on the throne as well. As a result, Boru faced challenges from both the other fiefdoms that challenged his power, and from within, as his wife plotted to put her son on the throne instead of his. When Boru dies in battle, his son and grandson are also killed, effectively destroying his dynasty, and Ireland reverts back to its clannishness.
The art in this book is loose to the point of being hard to read. There is too much black. The artist relies on the black to give a sense of mood rather than showing it through his art. It is often hard to read the backgrounds, making it difficult to get a sense of place. One disadvantage to this is that the reader has no investment in the hero’s feelings. The reader gets no sense of any of the characters’ love of place. As portrayed, Ireland is an ugly place, full of back-stabbing and blood. There are no beautiful vistas of the Irish countryside that Boru retreats to, in order to restore his spirit.
While this book was interesting (I knew nothing about this time period), it needed an introduction. There is a small endnote, but nothing beforehand or during the book. When one reads a graphic novel set in a made up world, the author takes time to fit in some explanation and background. Instead of assuming his reader would be familiar with the real world of Irish history, or even Medieval history in general, Goodfellow should have worked some of this into the story. Adding a of couple sentences here and there would have made such a difference. For example, “At the beginning of the 11th century, Ireland was divided up into 12 warring clans.” How long did that take? That would have helped a lot! Instead, the story just begins and the reader is left to stumble through as best he can. So while I was interested to learn about a time and place I knew nothing about, I felt this work didn’t quite achieve its goal to spread Boru’s story to a wider audience.
Brian Boru: Ireland’s Warrior King
by Damien Goodfellow
O’Brien Press, 2011
Publisher Age Rating: (teen to adult)