Monday, November 8, 2010

Goblin, Goblin: A Review of Tyger Tyger

Tyger Tyger: A Goblin Wars BookTyger Tyger: A Goblin Wars Book by Kersten Hamilton is a story steeped in tales of Irish mythology. The narrative centers on Teagan Wylltson--a teenager in contemporary Chicago with definite plans for vet school. Hamilton tells an exciting story about the Wylltson family's struggle with a group of goblins determined to kill them and the protagonist's struggle to discover how she and her family fit in to ancient Irish history. The ultimate answer is sobering--Teagan, her younger brother Aiden, and their mother Aileen fall into a gray area--but not without hope and speaks to the power of love and friendship to overcome old wounds and hatred.

Teagan's life turns upside down one day when her best friend Abby, who believes she is psychic, claims that in a dream, she saw goblins from the paintings Teagan's mother creates for her children's books attacking Teagan. Abby is so convinced of the danger that she drags Teagan to St. Drogo's church to ask for the saint's protection. Abby is not a regular churchgoer. Teagan dismisses Abby's fears but then receives another shock when her parents tell her that there will be a new addition to their family. Finn, Teagan's cousin who has been missing for several years after the death of his parents, has been discovered by social services. Finn gives the authorities Teagan's mother's name and her parents agree to take guardianship of the boy who has been living on the streets.

By most standards, Teagan's family is eccentric. Aileen is an orphan with a mysterious past who was taken in and raised by Mamieo--Finn's grandmother and a member of the Irish Travelers. She writes and illustrates children's books set in fantastical lands populated with fantastical creatures. The Wylltson's basement is filled with paintings. Aiden has a remarkable ability to remember and regurgitate songs. He also finds the tooth fairy and Elvis impersonators scary. John--Teagan's father--is a librarian by trade with a great love for poetry, especially old poetry like that of  William Blake whose poem "The Tyger" informs the novel's title. Mr. Wylltson reads to the family after dinner most every evening.

Finn Mccool Comes to Aid the Fianna,
by Stephen Reid (1932).
Strange events follow Finn's arrival. Teagan has no interest in a boyfriend as that would interfere with her plans for vet school, but she feels a strange electricity whenever Finn is near. He appears to feel an attraction as well. Mr. Wylltson reads an account of the Irish hero Fionn Mac Cumhaill who battles goblins. Aileen points out that Finn is a variation of the name Fionn. (We later learn that Finn is not only Fionn's namesake but the Mac Cumhaill, the person who carries on the battle with the goblins.) A baby hedgehog that Teagan is caring for at the Lincoln Park Zoo is found dead and it appears that the death is Teagan's fault. On the way home, she catches a fleeting glimpse of a cat-sidhe, a type of cat goblin. Aiden claims he saw a body-less shadow touch his mother. Finn leaves in the middle of the night, fearful of the trouble he may have brought on the Wylltsons. But the worst is yet to come and Teagan's life will become much stranger--including two trips to Mag Mell, the world the goblins now call home--before it makes any sense.

Hamilton populates her story with a vast array of fantastic creatures. Some are hopelessly evil; others are charming. A quote from Hamlet, which comes up several times in the novel, does well to sum up Hamilton's story.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. (Hamlet Act 1, scene 5)

The narrative--told entirely from Teagan's point-of-view--is fast-paced but not hurried and Hamilton further flavors the story with her sense of humor. Some scenes are as amusing as they are terrifying. In one case, a pair of hell hounds chase a vintage truck through suburban Chicago. However, unlike the proverbial dog chasing the car who doesn't know what to do with the car if he catches it, these nasty creatures know exactly what to do with the occupants of the truck. Hamilton also makes some subtle plays with names if you read carefully. Finn's guardian angel for example is named Raynor Schein, which could be read as "rain or shine." The novel ends with a satisfying conclusion that answers the questions posed at the outset but leaves room for more adventures to come. This reader is looking forward to another trip to Mag Mell.

I received an advance copy of Tyger Tyger from the publisher through NetGalley.


  1. Oo... Sounds intriguing. Now I want to read it for myself. :D

  2. Thank you for the exellent review, Jeff. After reading through your blog, I must ask—are you familiar with the work of Charles Williams? He was one of the Inklings. All Hallows Eve was one of his books that I liked very much.

  3. Hi Kersten. Yes, I'm familiar with Williams. I have Descent into Hell, and All Hallows Eve has been on my Christmas list for a couple years. Sounds like a fascinating story.