A dark, feminist retelling of The Children of Lir told in Sullivan’s hypnotic prose. A retelling of the favourite Irish fairytale The Children of Lir. Aife marries Lir, a king with four children by his previous wife. Jealous of his affection for his children, the witch Aife turns them into swans for 900 years.
Retold through the voice of Aife, Savage Her Reply is unsettling and dark, feminist and fierce, yet nuanced in its exploration of the guilt of a complex character. Voiced in Sullivan’s trademark rich, lyrical prose as developed in Tangleweed and Brine – the multiple award-winner which established Sullivan as the queen of witchy YA.
What I Thought:
I am very much at home for the work of Deirdre Sullivan – quite frankly she could write a shopping list and I would absorb it – so it is a privilege to read Savage Her Reply, a book that was two years in the making.
This retelling of The Children of Lir is told from Aife’s point of view – traditionally she has been the villain of the piece – and reframes it as the story of a young woman in pain. Not being very familiar with The Children of Lir, I read a summary of the tale after reading this book and what struck me was the utter lack of sympathy for Aife running through the traditional tale. She is shown as a conniver – ‘she feigned illness and went to bed for a year’ – and then she disappears from the story once the children are discovered.
The impression that Deirdre Sullivan gives of her is much more nuanced and, rather than writing her out of the story altogether, she shows Aife as a constant in the children’s lives over 900 years, whether she is wanted or not.
So much of the language Deirdre Sullivan uses is like poetry, especially the passages that bookend the rest of the text, and there is a real haunting beauty in it which is a pleasure to read and re-read.
I was lucky enough to take part in a virtual group chat with Deirdre Sullivan, and I wanted to ask more about the process of illustrating the book, as Karen Vaughan’s illustrations add so much to this book and to Tangleweed and Brine.
Deirdre was effusive in her praise of Karen Vaughan’s illustrations (I completely agree) and I was amazed to learn that Karen’s illustrations are done in pen and ink, with any amendments and corrections done on these original sketches. Deirdre gave the example of the illustration of Aife (below), and Karen making a change to her expression to better show her as more than just the antagonist of the story, to show her as that young woman in pain.
Savage Her Reply is a beautiful book in all ways – it will adorn your shelf as a piece of art quite happily, but there are also those illustrations that you will want to take out and frame and the text that you can re-read as a whole, but also dip in and out of.
It’s clear that this book was written with love and care, not just for the book itself, but for Aife and her sisters. It truly reshapes Aife from a witch into an intelligent, articulate young woman – as we know all witches really were and are. If you are familiar with The Children of Lir it will help you see Aife as as much a victim as the children and, if you’re new to the story as I was, you’ll feel heartbroken for a girl who only really wanted to be loved.
Savage Her Reply is published by Little Island Books.
To find out more about Deirdre Sullivan you can connect with her on Instagram or Twitter. For more on Karen Vaughan, you can check out her website, where you can also buy prints of her work, or you can connect with her on Twitter.
Many thanks to Deirdre Sullivan and Nina Douglas for taking the time out for our web chat, and thanks to my fellow bloggers (below) who asked such insightful questions and have some wonderful write ups that you should all go and read as part of the tour…
Please note: I was sent a copy of the book for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.