Today I am delighted to be joining the Escapist Tours blog tour for Hag of the Hills by J.T.T. Ryder, the first book in the Bronze Sword Cycles Duology.
If you want to check out the book for yourself, then it is currently available FREE on amazon from May 2nd – May 6th!
Disclaimer – I received a copy in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.
“Nothing is unconquerable; even our gods can die.”
All his life, Brennus has been destined for warriorhood. However, a farmer’s life doesn’t provide many opportunities for swordplay and glory, despite the Goddess of Winter’s gift of the Sight—the ability to see the sidhe of the Otherworld. But when the Hillmen kill his family and annihilate his clan, he knows the truth—no one can avenge his homeland but himself.
As he prepares to set out against the Hillmen and their Queen, the clan’s chief druid entrusts his daughter, Myrnna, to his protection, to which Brennus swears a solemn oath. As they fight toward the sanctuary of Dun Torrin, he must survive the endless hordes of Hillman and the monstrous sidhe while shielding Myrnna from harm, aided only by the Sight, a band of shifty mercenaries, and an ancient bronze sword.
As Brennus struggles through this new world of blood and magic, the tension between protecting Myrnna and avenging his homeland threatens to tear him apart. Failure means the curse of dishonour. Victory would bring glory to himself and his ancestors. But what if keeping both of his promises proves impossible?
In the words of his father…
“Nothing is unconquerable; even our gods can die.”
Hag of the Hills is the first book in The Bronze Sword Cycles duology, a heroic fantasy set in 200 B.C. on the Isle of Skye, steeped in Celtic mythology and culture.
I will say that I am glad that I had read that the author was an archaeologist before reading Hag from the Hills because it meant that I went into this one with the right frame of mind, and I think that is important because this book should not be mistaken for ‘conventional’ (whatever that is) Celtic-based fantasy although I do think it will appeal to fans of that. Instead, Hag from the Hills leans very strongly into the historical side, and the fantastical elements are more magical realism and belief than pure fantasy, and I have to say that the depiction of the Sidhe here is one of my favourites that I’ve seen depicted in a while. Ryder has not just tried to capture the geography and historical accuracy of the setting, but also its heart and mind, where aspects such as belief in the Sidhe are interwoven with everyday life.
The influence of that archaeological background can be seen most strongly in the worldbuilding because Ryder has created a richly realised world, that uses the relics and fragments of archaeology to anchor itself in a specific time and place. I loved the marriage of adding story to the bones provided by evidence, the fantastical elements of the sidhe and the feeling that this was an oral telling which worked beautifully with the period and setting. Hag of the Hills is incredibly grounded in the local, and yet in many ways, it is epic in scale, because there was an awareness and an acknowledgement of the wider geography of the world, from culture to politics and commerce, and again it built into the richness of the world and made for an interesting duality between the local and the wider world, the familiar and the other (a mirror in some ways of the interactions with the Sidhe).
I very much enjoyed the writing style although it did take a little getting used to because it is a life story told to another, it was somewhat episodic with tense changes. While it was a little jarring, to begin with, it worked very well with what was being done here – whenever you recount a tale, you jump around in time, and considering the melting pot that Brennus experiences, it is fitting that is mirrored in the recounting.
Brennus was a complicated character. I can’t say his viewpoint or his hunger for vengeance was something I agreed about, but his character voice, and the dichotomy of his place in the world at different points in his life. He is a man that has gone through many roles, who has fallen from honour and risen to its heights. What, he was, regardless of how you view him, is an incredibly compelling character. And I think the same can be said for the book in general – it was incredibly compelling, it’s action-packed both in terms of drama and battle, and sometimes it’s not the easiest world to read about or spend time in – fitting for the period, and yet Ryder makes it so consuming that you’re just swept along and enjoying every moment.
Hag from the Hills is a wonderful take on the hero’s journey in that it is not a sprawling epic, although the world is epic in context, but rather a localised tale – both in the geography of where the events occur, but also because much of the journey is within Brennus. I really loved the writing once I had got used to its flow, and the worldbuilding was absolutely fantastic, and I honestly can’t wait to see what Ryder will do in the second book of the series.
J.T.T Ryder is an archaeologist and author of the heroic fantasy novel HAG OF THE HILLS, book 1 of THE BRONZE SWORD CYCLES duology. He is a published author of Viking archaeology, and a doctoral candidate specializing in the Viking Age and Celtic Iron Age. He resides in Norway where he conducts archaeological research and writes heroic fantasy set in historical periods.