Legacy of Hunger book 1 of Druid’s Brooch is the first book I read by Christy Nicholas. I came to know about the author from a few blog tours I hosted of her books in this series and have always been rather intrigued by the covers... then I read the blurb of book 1 and found it to be a freebie so I grabbed it. TBH it was quite an unexpected journey!
Legacy of Hunger is an odd book. Slow and kind of gloomy but not at all unpleasant. The writing and the research was pretty fair and I enjoyed the pace. But the story was slow-moving and dark because of the subject matter which it centered around. The story is set in 1846, begins in America and ends in Ireland. The heroine (I’m not even sure if I should call her as such… she definitely was the only main character) Valentia had always been moved by the stories her Irish maternal grandmother had told her when she was young. She was fascinated by everything it entailed; the magic, the myth and everything in between. But what Valentia found the most intriguing was the story of an abandoned brooch—a family heirloom—that was left behind when she left Ireland many years ago. Now there was no saying if the brooch even existed or not. What I could gather from the vague recollection of Valentia of her now deceased grandmother, is that she may have encouraged her to look for it. But whatever the reason was, Valentia, now at 23 or 24, wanted to go visit Ireland. If only her ancestral land was her only interest here, that would’ve sufficed. However, Valentia was so obsessed with a drawing of the brooch she was given that she was totally ready to go on a wild goose chase in a land completely unknown to her.
Of course it was helpful that Valentia’s father Padraig, who descended from Irish immigrants himself, was pretty wealthy and her parents despite their misgivings, supported her idea. Her father was going to finance the journey and any funds necessary in Ireland. I’ll tell you that there were precious few narratives of her life in America and her family there. All I could gather from the first chapter before she set sail to Ireland where the rest of the story is set is that she has quite a few brothers and sisters, though only one, the youngest Conor, made an appearance. Majority of them were married and moved away or living with their own families. Valentia was never interested in American men, though she wasn’t brave enough to say anything to her dragon of a mother Majesta. Conor was going to accompany Valentia to protect and guide her in this mad journey.
I think the foreshadowing of the story began as the ship set sail and Valentia saw her parent standing on the bank, bidding them goodbye. As they, alongside the land she’d so far called her home, became smaller and smaller, Valentia panicked a little. She thought, would she ever see her parents again? To tell you the truth, for some reason that scene gave me the chills. And though the journey for the first part was quite uneventful, the second part was absolutely devastating. Valentia journeyed with Conor, his valet and her lady’s maid Maggie. The ship was also known to have been carrying immigrants and Valentia was aware of them. Though being born in a rich family she didn’t have to communicate with the lowest of the low, their plight on the ship and the stories she begin hearing about Ireland stuck with her. It also had borne a new obsession; to do something if she was able to when she reached Ireland. But what could she really do? Valentia had no idea.
Then malaria struck, and with that a big chunk of the crew members and passengers went down. It took many families; sometimes a few members, sometimes the whole family. Valentia lost Conor, never having a clue as she was also fighting for her own life. For some reason, Maggie was spared of it so she was able to take care of them as best was possible for her. Then Conor’s valet also died. Maggie was helpless, miserable being quarantined. She didn’t know whether she actually could save Valentia or not.
Thankfully, Valentia bounced back, though not the way I may have made it sound like. She was still ill but she survived and reached Ireland in a daze. In a complete disbelief that she’d lost her mischievous younger brother that she’d loved so much. Grieving his loss, and despairing that she couldn’t do anything for him. I couldn’t even imagine! It broke my heart.
In Ireland, as she began gaining her health back, Valentia also began making inquiries about her family, often with Maggie’s help. She made a few Irish friends as well who wanted to help her find her family too. The first were two men she met at an Inn she was staying at; a middle-aged man called O’Brien and a younger man named Michel. While looking for her relatives, she also began learning more about the ongoing famine that was plaguing the whole of Ireland that’s also known as the Irish Potato Famine or The Great Hunger (1845-1849) and how people were either succumbing to hunger and dying or leaving the country to seek a better life elsewhere. It seemed like both O’Brien and Michel were working to protest the wrongs. They were very involved with the internal politics. With their encouragement, Valentia begins to also become involved in the whole mess.
Valentia developed a lasting friendship with both men, though she never really took to O’Brien because he was older and gruff and she probably felt intimidated by him. However, Michel was much closer to her age and very charming and poor Valentia began losing her head. It could’ve been the beginning of a romance. Unfortunately, Michel was a married father of 3 and he had no intentions of leaving his wife. I praise him for that, and was shaking my head the whole time as I read just how Valentia thought she was in love with Michel and tried to convince him to......I don’t know what she had in mind. I don’t think she even knew what she wanted. Did she want him to cheat on his wife? Leave his wife for her? Good thing that Michel was the one with a level head and told her firmly that if there was a way they could be together, he would’ve but it couldn’t be.
A heartbroken Valentia decides that it was better she doesn’t have any close contact with Michel any longer. As she nursed her broken heart she finally begins her journey AKA the wild goose chase in a coach and a man hired by Michel for protection. Kevin, a big, strong and canny Irishman turned out to be just the kind of protection Valentia needed. He was very smart and was charming enough to wheedle out information without looking suspicious. Of course, the moment Kevin saw the young, red-haired Maggie, he knew he’d found the woman he wants to settle down with. But what I found hilarious was Maggie’s demeanor around him. She was quite unimpressed by Kevin and would show it too, though not in a cruel way. I knew these two were meant to be and I was quite right. :D
Back to Valentia and her journey. It’d prove to be the greatest experience that she’d would ever experience. The things she’d see and endure; her recurring illness and her broken heart that now grieved the loss of both Conor and Michel. No, Michel wasn’t dead but he was good as dead to her at that moment. He kept himself pretty aloof and his notes, if they ever came to her, were very distant. This journey is what dominates the whole story showing you the evils of Potato Famine and suffering of the folks around. But even in all that hullaballoo, Valentia didn’t lose the focus of her journey; to find her family and inquire about the brooch. But why was she so crazy about finding the brooch? Valentia didn’t know. She, though, had had a few out-of-this-world experiences in Ireland that can only be termed as ‘magic’. She saw and felt things when she went to the sacred grounds that were the portals connecting this world and the world of the Fair Folks, also called the Fey. These experiences kind of made her even more determined to find the brooch having an intuition that she must’ve had a calling of sort. In a way, it turned out to be true. The brooch did have special power and Valentia would find surprises after surprises waiting for her when she finally tracks down the elusive thing.
The story had everything but romance. I went in expecting at least a little bit of it and came back disappointed. It’s more of a historical fantasy with the smatterings of a few almost-romances, adding in a touch of magic to make it pop. There were times I thought Velentia was being rather irrational, if not downright callous. She loved flirting like any other girl of her age, and along the way, had met a few men other than Michel. It always felt like she was never really interested in any of them, though she had led them to a merry chase. It also felt like she was still in love with Michel but wasn’t interested in moving on. I’ll give the only example of ‘romance’ that saddened me to no end, because I still feel the total burn I felt while I was watching it unfold...
On the way to the aforementioned ‘wild goose chase’ Valentia finds that both her grandmother’s sisters are still alive. One turns out to be Cruela De Vil and the other the Charming Old Lady. When she was visiting Cruela De Vil AKA Eithne’s house and finally introduced herself, she also met one of her cousins named Donal. Poor Donal didn’t have a strong personality and was always manipulated by his grandmother, who was the only family member he had left until meeting Valentia. I felt that the constant manipulation and pressure from Eithne to find a wealthy wife led Donal to have some sort of psychological issues. After all, Eithne was a piece of work. He hid it well and I thought he was a pleasant young man. But then, he had to go fall in love with Valentia. Though Eithne was already plotting for Donal to marry Valentia for her money, Donal, maybe for the first time in his life, was not happy with his dearest grandmama’s interference. He wanted this to work without any deception. To his delight, Valentia agrees to be courted by him for a few weeks, then only to reject him in a panic when he finally gathered the courage to propose. Marriage didn’t seem like the right thing when she had other pressing matters to attend to, namely to find the brooch in question. And it was just too much. Donal was left sad and hurt. He still didn’t snap though, even when Valentia left to track down the other sister Esme. She was by then certain that Eithne didn’t have the thing she coveted the most at that moment.
For a few weeks, because it took waaay longer to track down Esme, Valentia had the chance to think about Donal and felt bad for him. But it was pretty obvious she felt no strong pull towards him. Somehow Donal finds her again to bring her some of her correspondence that arrived after she left. He also wanted to tag along, mainly to help her through the rest of her journey. Times were bad and Valentia already knew firsthand how bad it was. British soldiers were patrolling the pathways and things could get out of hand at any moment. Still, Valentia was irritated at Donal’s insistence. She thought him to be a nuisance until she relented thinking of the danger. When, in one of their many journeys, a mob of hungry people descended on them stealing everything, Valentia was happy that there were extra hands like Donal to help and protect. Like she, for the first time, felt that Donal was useful for something.
Frankly, on many occasions before and after that, to me it felt like Valentia was only checking whether Donal could benefit her in any way. Hell, she didn’t even trust him enough to confide him about the brooch yet she considered marriage with him and accepted his wish to court her! Wtf was she thinking?! Why led him to believe she cared then kick him out of her way when she felt he’d only be a burden? OMG!! She treated him thus until the day he went mad. I won’t go into the details of what happened cause that was one of the most crucial moments of the story, but Donal simply snapped when he found that all along Valentia was only searching for the brooch and she had no interest in him in any shape or form. I’m not saying he didn’t have his own issues but I knew the poor man felt betrayed and absolutely devastated. From his grandmother to Valentia who, I believe, he really loved; both women totally consumed by the need to possess the bloody brooch!!! It was such a mess that simply made the whole story bitter for me. Damn it but I was rooting for Donal!
So I found that there’s nothing but tragedy where ‘romance’ part of the story is concerned. At least Valentia’s romance. She never marries, as we find in the end, so I guess that should be the answer to all of my questions. My only solace was to see Maggie and Kevin’s romance blossom, leading to their marriage.
Another thing that bugged me to no end was, while she was searching for Esme, Valentia finds her only daughter Katie mentally unstable and living in inhumane conditions. Then we find Esme, living in a charming seaside cottage a few miles away from there. Like wtf? When Valentia told her about Katie, it seemed like Esme kind of remembered that she even had a daughter. Huh?? :/ Why wasn’t Katie with her to begin with??? I know she married and moved away with her husband, who then died. But it seemed like Esme had no idea where her daughter was, most importantly wasn’t bothered much about her until she was informed of Katie’s sad state. Really weird.
While searching for other books in the series, I found that Druid’s Brooch has all sorts of different stories set on different eras; all centered around that brooch. It doesn’t follow the usual patterns of a series. The next book is about Esme’s life and what happened to her and Eithne after their parents left for America. I’m not sure I want to read that because there were vague allusions of those incidents in this book too. For me, the story kind of ended with Valentia. The epilogue just made me sad. Valentia never marrying, spending her whole life in Ireland fighting for good causes. She never saw her parents again.
And there was no mention of Donal anywhere.
In conclusion, even though I enjoyed the historical parts, can’t say I enjoyed all of it. It had moments of both happiness and extreme sadness. Legacy of Hunger had a storyline that integrated history with magic which made it a slightly different read than what I usually read. It’s why I don’t regret reading it. I’d recommend if what I mentioned above doesn’t bother you as much as it did me. 3.5 stars.