Niamh and the Hermit
Princess Niamh is beautiful — so beautiful, in fact, that men are driven mad by her beauty. Her parents, hearing of the mysterious Hermit (who is said to be a man part lion, part eagle), believe that he may be able to withstand their daughter’s deadly beauty and marry her; during the Hermit’s journey to the castle, he and the Princess communicate through magical means, and fall deeply in love. However, before the Hermit arrives at the castle, Niamh is deceived by the evil and bitter Count into corrupting herself, and is driven from her home to wander deformed and invisible in the wild.
The book follows the quests of several characters: Niamh, sullied yet seeking to find her true self again; the Hermit, Gethin, ever-faithfully searching for Niamh and willing to sacrifice everything to regain her; the Count, also desiring to find Niamh in hopes of completely destroying her with the help of his demon-kind followers; and Pwll and Liam, two young men from the court of Niamh’s father, determined to find and conquer the evil Count. The complex journeys of these characters unfold in fairy-tale style, with a basic plot complicated by many smaller events: battles with various mythical and demonic creatures, and encounters with Fairies, the noble and fading race of winged beings.
The book is written by a Christian author and definitely contains allegorical content, including elements reminiscent of the sacraments, spiritual warfare, Christ’s death and resurrection, and a sort of “Hound of Heaven” motif. The book is not in the least preachy, however, and the allegorical elements are for the most part veiled and unassuming. Much of the book’s magic is fairy-tale in nature, although some of it is quite mystical. The evil magic in the book is extremely demonic and repulsive — definitely differentiated from the higher, noble powers of the Fairy-kind.
The literary quality of the book varies; at times the prose is quite beautiful. It is very poetic and archaic; the poetry usually works and the archaism works also at times. The dialogue, however, suffers from the difficulty the author has in correctly using archaic verb forms. One would wish she had studied a bit more before tacking “-est” onto practically every second or third person verb in the more formal dialogue sections. This is the most prominent literary problem with the work. (There was also one five- or ten-page section which the proofreader apparently skipped — typos came up constantly throughout this part.) The plot is straightforward and holds together well, if rather loosely. The feel of the setting is improved by a detailed background mythology, which the author delineates in several appendices in the back of the book. The mythological background at times feels a bit forced, and it is not integral to a full understanding of the themes and even the plot of the story, as it is in, for instance, Tolkien’s brilliant universe, but then, this book isn’t Tolkien. Still, it is an enjoyable read.