The Valley of Shadows
by Brian Cullen
Review by Harriet Klausner
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765314741
Date: 17 February 2009 List Price $25.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Bricriu Poisontongue stole the Chalice of Fire from the Red Branch in Ultes; by doing so the years of peace that the artifact provided was broken. Due to the theft, the evil wizard Maliman and his horde have been freed from the hell-like Great Rift prison, and is building his forces from his isolated fortress Dun Daraiin, the mountains of Mourne. Though only the just can drink from the Chalice, the Dark Ones keep the sacred cup from the just so that there is one less critical weapon in their arsenal when the inevitable war occurs.
The Seekers of the Chalice (Seanchan the Druid, Lorgas and Bern the elves, Cumac the warrior, Fedelm the Sidhe, and Tarin the mercenary) need to find Bricriu in order to retrieve the Chalice and return it to the Red Branch. They are constantly on guard from the Greyhounds, the Nightsdhades, and the Femonian, who all work for Maliman. Everywhere they go, they fight his followers or other evil not aligned to him. The Seekers know their prey is in the Province of Munster accepting the Laws of Hospitality from King Caipre. The journey there is harsh as they must trek through the Forest of Fairdell where blood sucking Summaries and shapeshfting Wargaods reside with a desire to kill intruders.
They come across a beautiful dwelling in the midst of all that evil. A lovely woman Moagin offers them a place to stay and good food, but when they are ready to depart they learn they are her prisoners. Underneath her kind guise is a crone. Using trickery they escape only to meet up with Nightshades whom they fight off before reaching an inn that offers shelter and food; they are unaware that the surrounding villagers are all vampiric Sumaires. Once gain they barely escape, but are forced to split up to do so. The warriors Tariin and Sirona who joined their party head to Connacht to plead with Queen Maeve to ask her son King Caipre to lift the Laws of Hospitality that protect the Chalice thief. They are greeted with a stay in her dungeon as some of her men are aligned with Maliman. Maeve rejects their request while the Sidhe and the Druid head to the malevolent Valley of Shadows, but Bricriu eludes them again. They all meet up in that evil place.
The second Celtic mythos (see Seekers of the Chalice) continues the quest fantasy mindful of Tolkien and Brooks. The Seekers go from one dangerous encounter to another with few people showing them kindness; some are too afraid to do so while others support the enemy whom they feel will win. They know that Maliman has sent his loyal followers to the courts of monarchs, the estates of nobles, and the key towns to sow discard and consequently weaken Eire from within before he makes his major invasion with his full army.
The Seekers each have different personalities and react accordingly to crisis in a variety of manners; as they represent various species. The only individual that readers feel a closeness to is Talin, who explains why he has such a terrible reputation; the others seem like avatars, which augments the the Cullen realm. Talin's story is heart-wrenching as he lost everything dear to him, but sustains a wicked sense of humor and a deep belief in the righteousness of the cause. The evil creatures lack depth beyond attacking as the audience never learns why they think and act the way they do; they seem to know one thing--destroy, though how the Sumaires live in a seemingly thriving village is unexplained.
There are also scenes in which the Eire pantheon of Gods debate interfering in the affairs of man; particularly helping the Seekers. These discussions are fascinating, mindful of Jason and the Argonauts (the 1963 Harryhausen film and the Hamilton print version of the original Greek classic) while the audience wonders will they or will they not. This middle book avoids the usual syndrome with an action-packed sword and sorcery quest story line that will have fans anxiously awaiting the finish to this terrific Celtic mythology.