Becoming Brigid by Lisa Shafer (2013)
Confession: covers matter to me. They are the first thing about a book that catches my attention, either by their wonderfulness, their horribleness, or their unnoticeableness. They tell me the genre, often, what sort of publisher is handling them (don’t assume I gravitate to the ones from big publishers, because I don’t), and, if I’m lucky, something of the subject of the book. They are my first opportunity to assess whether I might be interested enough to stay a moment and find out a little more.
Given all that, I approached this book, which I found by chance online, cautiously. The cover appeared homemade, which usually means the book is self-published. I know that many self-published books are awesome, but a whole lot of them are not. So, I approach, but with slightly lowered expectations.
To my delight, the blurb told me that this was a novel not just about a girl and a fellow, but also a missing goddess named Brigid. Yes!! There are not enough novels about Brigit, from where I sit, and I am always looking for ones I will love. With Becoming Brigid I was looking at one that moved out of the more serious territory of the others I have read* and into a fond sub-genre, paranormal fantasy. I ordered it, and soon it arrived.
My first impressions were good. The writing was professional and engaging, the genre familiar and comfortable (North American Y.A. urban fantasy), and I quickly got a sense of the main character and her cheeky, adventurous spirit. Her father is a ghost hunter who never finds anything, but she, it seems, sees ghosts. And one, at least, sees her.
And we’re off.
The long and the short of it is, I really like this book. The plot is appealing and carried me along, with enough surprises that I was pleased but not so many I was exhausted. The main and secondary characters are convincing and interesting (I really like Pepper’s sidekick, though I wish her female friends had featured more in the book). The dialogue, and in fact the writing overall, is excellent. The story’s main setting (Utah) remains tangible in my memory, though I have hazier recollection of other settings. And the author’s humour shines through on a number of occasions, giving me some good, unexpected laughs, which I appreciate in a book that is not attempting to be funny on every page. I was absolutely in my reading element to have added to all of that the intrigue of my real life favourite goddess playing a major part here.
Did I have criticisms flickering in my brain at any points as I read along? Of course. I always do – even when I am the person who did the writing.
There were a couple of moments where a person of size was referred to in a humourously pejorative way, which really bothers me. (I felt somewhat better when I discovered that the author herself is heavy. Not that it makes it great, but it is likely internalised oppression rather than skinny-person prejudice. I can live with that.)
I did feel uncomfortable with the sexual vibe between a teenager and a grown man, even though it is never acted on beyond a brief kiss. Why could he not have been a teenager, too? On the other hand, handled as it is, it’s saying to girls, “You can say no even to a guy you really like; there is no hurry or even any need to act on those feelings,” without shaming the protagonist’s sexual sensations and desires. That is pretty cool, if you ask me, and a whole lot different than the messages in the books I read as a teen.
In fact, there is a whole lot of girl power happening in this story, a lot of rejection of controlling males, and the protagonist finding her way through her fears and self-perceptions: but not in a heavy handed, info dump kind of way. Really well done.
For those among us who are attached to certain stories about the goddess Brigit, I will say that the backstory here is not from the Irish tales and traditions. It is based instead on a much more recent tale of Brigit and Lugh in Scotland, along with what my limited understanding believes is a Wiccan or similar Neo-Pagan perspective. Brigit’s triple goddess nature is said by one character to be linked to the maiden-mother-crone modality, which in origin, in fact, it is not. This is again a modern framework superimposed on an ancient goddess.
But you know what? That’s okay. If we aren’t coming to this novel to learn mythology or history, but to enjoy fictional magic, a character’s growing self-awareness, and plain good writing, then there is no need to worry about those things. And you know how much time I do spend worrying about them, in my free time.
Now, I may have to seek out Lisa Shafer’s other books, starting with the first, Confessions of an Average Half-Vampire.
* You can read my reviews of them on my blog, Brigit’s Sparkling Flame: http://brigitssparklingflame.blogspot.com/p/brigit-book-reviews.html