Ancient Appetites by Oisin McGann

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Ancient Appetites by Oisin McGann

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: An alternative Victorian Ireland similar to Philip Pullman's alternative Victorian Oxford provides the backdrop to this fantasy adventure in which the young heir to an important family becomes the reluctant hero in a Godfather-like journey to power. Pacy and fun.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 448 Date: January 2008
Publisher: Corgi Children's
ISBN: 978-0552554992

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Nate's return from Africa to his home in a Victorian Ireland the reader only partly recognises is proving troublesome. His older brother Marcus, heir to the Wildernstern family trade empire, has died in a climbing accident. Foul play is suspected. This isn't a great surprise, as the Wildernstern's are a savage family, recognising only brute force in its rulers. Assassination of family members is not only tolerated, it is sanctioned through the Rules of Ascension. As third in line to the Patriarchy, Nate is a prime suspect in his brother's death. But Nate didn't do it and, together with sister-in-law Daisy and cousin Gerald, he is determined to discover who did.

Internecine warfare isn't the only trouble afoot. Against a backdrop of religion against science (Darwin has just published his theory of evolution), there is also social unrest. The Fenians are unhappy with the landowners and especially with the most ruthless example; the Wildernsterns. Made desperate by famine and evictions, terrorist organisations are springing up. Even servants are joining the rebels in secret. Nate is going to find it difficult to know in whom he can trust.

Add to this potent mix of intrigues some fantasy elements, such as bog bodies regenerating and engimals, hybrid animal-machine life forms from a previous or extra-terrestrial advanced culture, and you're in for a rip-roaring adventure...

Ancient Appetites presents us with an alternative Victorian Ireland in the same way Philip Pullman presented us with an alternative Victorian Oxford to such great effect. While this book doesn't live up to the epic lyricism of Pullman (not a criticism? What does?) it does go further in exploring the social cost of rapid industrialisation and the concentration of wealth in just a few hands. The Potato Famine is mentioned and the Wildensterns use huge engimals to destroy the cottages of hapless tenants if they default on their rent. McGann is careful to differentiate between petty criminals and Fenians. Nate, while presented as less vicious than many of his relatives, comes across as a spoiled and thoughtless son of privilege. If there are further books in the series, I'd like to see his social conscience tested further. It would be interesting to see what choices the character makes.

It's a pacy, bloodthirsty story, taking threads from diverse sources: a Godfather-style Mafia family fighting and infighting; social deprivation of the past; a Pullmanesque blend of history and fantasy; the age-old battle between good and evil. And it's great fun. I wouldn't quite call Ancient Appetites a classic, but I'd certainly look forward to reading another book about the Wildernsterns, and my twelve-year-old devoured it in a couple of days, refusing to put it down even for his dinner. It should probably wait for the very last years of primary school or early secondary, as there's a lot of gore and a few sexually aggressive scenes that may go over the heads of younger, albeit confident, readers.

My thanks to the good people at Random House for sending the book.

If they enjoyed Ancient Appetites, they might also enjoy D M Cornish's Monster Blood Tattoo, which has a lot more fantasy but a similarly Victorian feel. You might also enjoy Wisdom of Dead Men by Oisin McGann or Pawns by Brian Gallagher.

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Buy Ancient Appetites by Oisin McGann at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Ancient Appetites by Oisin McGann at


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