Despite the bookended modern-day chapters to this story, The Last Days of Magic was a book I really enjoyed. I’m a sucker for fantasy, and this promised to tick all the boxes, promising Goddesses, witches, religion and Ireland all rolled into one.
It also has an incredibly rich mythos, that Tompkins mines for everything he’s worth. Set in the late 1300s, in the depths of Medieval Ireland, we encounter an as-yet unconquered island where the last of the faeries live together with Celts and Vikings, whilst the Roman church and the French High Coven of witches (led, somewhat bizarrely, by Queen Isabeau of France) plot to take them down. Chaucer makes an appearance. So does Richard II, and the Pope.
But the main focus of the book is Aisling, the Morrigna: together with her twin sister Anya, she’s one half of the Morrigna, the Goddess whose return has the potential to save Ireland from invading forces. When her sister dies, though, everything is suddenly thrown into doubt, and with it, the future of Ireland.
I really loved how detailed the world that Tompkins has created is: it’s rich with myth legend, linking God and the Nephilim to the fairy world of Tir n’a n’Og, and taking us in leaps and bounds from place to place. Ireland, and the mythical creatures that inhabit it, is beautifully described, and almost makes you want to jump into the story and explore it for yourself. Though the rhythm of the story, jumping forwards and backwards in time between Rome, Ireland, France and England, is exhausting to start with, it becomes a whole lot more interesting once you get used to the format.
There’s also heaps and heaps of plot- at times, too much. I felt that Tompkins overdid it at times with exposition, heaping unnecessary details into the book simply for the sake of it, which sometimes made for tedious reading, which I skipped- to sift through, and heaps of characters to grapple with. For the most part, he does a good job of balancing them, spending time with Venetian condottieri Jordan and mad King Richard as well as Aisling, letting us see the dark forces massed against Ireland.
However, at times characterisation suffered as a result. I think in the future spending time with fewer characters would not only be more interesting but let us invest more in them. That made for particularly frustrating reading when it came to Aisling: I want to know more about her life, especially as she’s the protagonist! Checking in with her periodically was entertaining but just made me want to know more about her, which didn’t happen.
Because I did enjoy this book. The main characters are, on the whole, interesting and well developed, and you care about them- especially Liam, the Gallowglass, and Aisling. The plotting in the book is superb and makes for some really suspenseful reading. It’s almost like a war novel in its details, and the only thing that was missing was more investment in the characters.
Would I recommend The Last Days of Magic? Definitely. Does it need work? Yes. But it’s also a fantastic read that hopefully will only improve when the next book comes out, as it has heaps of potential. I’ll be waiting!
Book cover taken from Goodreads.