Irish Book Review: The Folk’d Trilogy by Laurence Donaghy

Belfast has a bright new star in writer Laurence Donaghy, whose Folk’d trilogy (Folk’d, Folk’d Up, and Completely Folk’d) is creative, gloriously weird, and irreverently funny.

Folk'd by Laurence Donaghy

Book 1: Folk’d

Laurence Donaghy’s Folk’d trilogy riffs off the old myths of the Tuatha dé Danann and transports us to modern Belfast, where Danny Morrigan has got his girlfriend Ellie pregnant, and together they are struggling to keep mind and body together as they deal with being new parents before they even took one step on the career track.

If you have any notion of the legends of the Tuatha dé, you know the Morrigan is the goddess of war, and you assume Danny’s name will turn out to be more than mere coincidence.

It isn’t, young Danny is the latest in a long line of Morrigans, whose secret family trade is to seek out and kill faeries, who aren’t cute or cuddly, but vicious demons from the otherworld. Poor oul’ Danny knows nothing of this at the start.

Folk'd Up by Laurence Donaghy

Book 2: Folk’d Up

So far, so predictable — you could be forgiven for thinking — but, and it’s a hugely enjoyable but, things take some strange turns.

In the first book, Folk’d, Ellie and young baby Luke vanish mid-phone call. Later, Danny’s whole life gets rewritten, and he’s suddenly living large, childless and coining it in at a responsible job with a tech company, all very Celtic Tiger. Meanwhile, his best mate Steve is the one raising a child with Ellie — And with apologies to River Song (Spoilers!), may I just say Steve owns Completely Folk’d! Go Steve (and Larka)! Although everyone else seems to accept this world completely, Danny instinctively feels something is wrong. He has memories he can’t account for. Knows things, like how to change a nappy, that he has never had any occasion to learn. Someone, something, has changed the world, the recent past, and Danny seems to be the only one to notice, although even he’s not quite sure what he’s noticing…

The risk with basing any novel on well-known legends (although just how well-known the Tuatha dé Danann stories really are outside of Ireland is probably debatable) is that anyone who knows the legends should be able to reason out how the story will resolve, robbing it of any tension. However, Donaghy has no intention of merely transposing the myths to modern day Belfast. He takes the legends as a starting point, and like Neil Gaiman, asks what might happen if any of the ancient gods and/or their descendants were still knocking around, either in Ireland or the otherworld, and how they might carry on their ancient feuds and generally fuck with humanity.

Which brings me to how Donaghy writes. He tells his story in a regular street style, with often-inarticulate heroes who swear casually, drink too much, and have sex with the wrong people. And in doing so, he frees the books from hidebound tradition, and the sword and sorcery tropes of traditional fantasy, creating a modern tale of the fantastical that mixes the heritage of Irish legend with the equally fantastic new world of cyberspace and the “don’t look too closely and just blindly believe all the hype” ethos of the Celtic Tiger years.

It’s a potent mix of old myth and new myth in a realistic setting, and it results in a trilogy that is neither predictable nor reminiscent of other books.

Completely Folk'd by Laurence Donaghy

Book 3: Completely Folk’d

I’m deliberately not going to tell you any more of the plot here, because the less you know the better the books are. I knew little going in other than the vague outline of “urban fantasy set in Belfast with lots of swearing.” I read the first two books (Folk’d and Folk’d Up) back-to-back in a couple of days when I was in Ireland last summer, and pre-ordered the third volume, Completely Folk’d, which just came out in paperback. (All three were available before that in ebook form, but I rarely finish an ebook, so I waited for the physical book. It was a tough wait, but worth it!)

Although I don’t review many fantasy novels here, I do love the weird-beneath-the-surface urban-fantasy of people like Neil Gaiman and Martin Millar, so I was very pleased to find an Irish author who can hold his head up in that company. Like Martin Millar, Donaghy is funny, terrifically funny. Danny Morrigan and his best mate Steve crack jokes and mock each other pitilessly, as guys (at least the guys I grew up with in Ireland & the UK) are wont to do. This helps to ground the book in a familiar reality, which makes the fantastic elements feel all the more mad and strange when they occur.

If there’s any justice in the world, Laurence Donaghy will become a big star and write lots more unpredictable, raw, and down-to-earth fantastic novels. I can’t wait to read them.

Notes

Buy Laurence Donaghy’s Folk’d (book 1) in the US…

Buy volume 1, Folk’d in Ireland/UK…

Buy Completely Folk’d in the US…

Buy Completely Folk’d in Ireland/UK…

You can also purchase any of Laurence Donaghy’s books from Kennys.ie and enjoy free shipping worldwide, while supporting a great Irish bookstore!

Laurence Donaghy is published by Blackstaff Press, a great Belfast publisher. Check out some of their other great books!

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