The Fire Opal by Regina McBride is one of the most unusual novels I’ve read, a spooky and ethereal fantasy. Maeve O’Tullagh is a sixteenth century teen on the coast of Ireland. Surrounding the dank atmosphere of her hometown, Ard Macha, and its mysterious ruins, is an echo of centuries past, when goddess queens ruled, and the rocky land was a rich and fertile forest.
When a rancid-smelling Valkyrie corpse is unearthed, Maeve’s one-year-old sister Ishleen suddenly dies, sending her mother into a melancholy derangement. Maeve begins receiving mysterious visions, and encounters benevolent, shape-shifting swan women, as well as malevolent mermaids in the Atlantic tides. Meanwhile, the O’Tullaghs’ cruel-hearted neighbor, Tom Cavan, is the story’s antagonist. He is constantly harassing and inciting Maeve, in a twisted attempt to win her affections.
Reading about the O’Tullaghs’ simple fishing and farming life in sixteenth century Ireland, and Maeve’s brothers’ desires to fight the invading English soldiers, sustained my interests. I liked how the historical setting was accompanied by phantasm and mysticism. The story teeters for a while on the cusp between the real world and Maeve’s unearthly experiences. But once she embarks upon a magical quest and rescue mission on an enchanted Ice Barge, the story fully immerses into fantasy, becoming dreamlike and chilling.
Maeve also encounters a taste of romance with a young Spanish soldier, called Francisco. But her time with him is brief. In addition to this, the story clearly awaits a sequel to be resolved. An original novel which fans of YA fantasy and mythology will enjoy.