With its stunning gothic cover, I was instantly drawn to The House of Mountfathom. The style of writing is unusual, but I grew to enjoy its off-kilter rhythm, fitting perfectly with the theme of magic existing in a recognisable Ireland, though set historically around the time that Ireland was fighting for independence. Lord and Lady Mountfathom are members of the Driochta, their purpose to protect Ireland using magic. The novel begins with the birth of their son, Luke, and his naming ceremony, a celebration that is interrupted by a pair of strangers who issue a stark warning to the Mountfathoms.

The House of Mountfathom. A place of wonder, magic and mystery. A house with doors that lead to faraway places, where Shape-Shifting and Smoke-Summoning are as commonplace as the rising and setting of the sun.

Luke is the son of the noble house with a magical education to fulfil; Killian, a sharp-tongues street urchin with an agenda of his own. Together the pair will have to tread a unique and brave path if they are to save the House of Mountfathom and preserve the very peace of the land…

The heart of the novel is the relationship between two boys; Luke who grows up in a cosseted environment surrounded by magic and privilege, and Killian, the ‘Lagan rat’ as he is often referred to, brought up to steal and lie in order to survive in the tenements, is a highlight. Before Killian appeared I felt that Luke as a character was quite distant. Killian forces him to show a personality and have conviction.

I loved how McDowell had loosely used history to provide a framework for his more magical version of Ireland. We are told that once there were Gyants and there is a fear that one of the factions in the ongoing war will awaken the ash dragons. Great houses all over Ireland are being seized by Land Grabbers, those who have tired of being lorded over by the wealthy. Knowing that it is not long before Mountfathom is at risk, the Driochta are enlisted to help but find themselves sidelined as an even more powerful magic is unleashed from Whitehall, the Politomancer, who is said to have experimented so much with magic that he is now more spell than human.

There was so much adventure, and constant travelling, that I did feel the novel could have benefitted by slowing down a little and spending a little more time explaining. I felt that the purpose of the Driochta was quite hazy at first, and I would have liked a little more of their history. Luke’s cousins feature quite prominently in the first part of the novel but then vanish, and I was also unsure why they seemed to lack magic and at times were afraid of the Mountfathoms. Basically, there were gaps in the world building that for me at times made me wonder if I’d missed something.

Overall, a good gothic YA novel, but not quite perfect.

I received this advance copy courtesy of Readers First.

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