Irish author Shauna Lawless returns to her Gael Song series with The Words of Kings and Prophets. This fantasy novel from Ad Astra, the Science Fiction and Fantasy imprint of Head of Zeus, is the perfect blend of magic, mythology, and history. The first novel in the series, The Children of Gods and Fighting Men, was one of my favourite releases of 2022, and I have been looking forward to the release of The Words of Kings and Prophets for months. I had sky-high expectations, and Lawless did not disappoint. The Words of Kings and Prophets is a triumph. The narrative continues almost immediately from The Children of Gods and Fighting Men, so this is an essential read before you begin. However, Lawless provides a character list giving all the different allegiances and family connections and a pronunciation guide for names.
In The Words of Kings and Prophets, Lawless returns to Ireland at the turn of the 11th century, and the same two main characters of the first novel. Gormflaith, a Fomorian who wields fire magic, is now the unhappy wife of King Brian Boru, and Fódla, a magically disguised Descendant of the Tuatha Dé Danann with the power to heal who is attempting to keep her nephew safe in the mortal world. The Fomorians and the Descendants are sworn enemies, with the last two Fomorians (Gormflaith and her brother Máelmórda) hiding their magic and scheming to avenge their kin and destroy the Descendants. Both Gormflaith and Fódla live in Killaloe at the start of The Words of Kings and Prophets, so there is an underlying tension from the novel’s beginning – the stories of these two women have finally aligned to the same location, yet neither is aware of who the other truly is.
The Words of Kings and Prophets is not a typical swords and sorcery fantasy novel, though, due to its predominantly female perspective. Neither Fódla nor Gormflaith take part in big battles or legendary leaders – they are in the background of these things. Even though Gormflaith, in particular, is probably the most intelligent and ruthless character in the entire novel, she is shackled by her sex and the society of the time. It is impossible not to be sympathetic to her, even if she is not particularly likeable. Fódla, on the other hand, is impossible not to like. She is enduringly kind and good, attempting to see the best in people even when they do not deserve it. I personally really enjoyed this lesser-seen historical perspective. Lawless is highly knowledgeable about Irish history, and this historical accuracy makes the magical elements seem all the more real. However, reading from the point of view of the hidden healer watching a battle from afar or the wife left at home waiting for news are ones we do not often get to read. I also enjoyed the two very different ways that Lawless presents the motherhood of these two characters. Both are driven by love for the children they must protect, but their attitudes and actions are very different.
The world-building and slightly slower pace of The Children of Gods and Fighting Men paid off to set up The Words of Kings and Prophets. This second novel moved quickly, and already knowing who the key characters were meant that I progressed through The Words of Kings and Prophets much more rapidly. It also helps that this novel only spans the events of a single year, whereas its predecessor had to cover almost two decades. Lawless’ writing remains captivating, and she has ended The Words of Kings and Prophets in a way that sets us up for a fantastic third novel.
You will not regret picking up The Words of Kings and Prophets, and I would like to say a huge thank you to Shauna Lawless and the team at Ad Astra for sending me a copy for me to be able to provide this review.