Book Review by Sapphire Ng
The Crows of Beara
by Julie Christine Johnson
Ashland Creek Press
Copyright September 2017
Paperback, 402 Pages
An eclectic blend of themes of environmentalism, human vulnerability and spirituality, this novel consists of one part romance intertwined with alcoholism and its germination and consequences, and one part the politics of copper mining in venerated environments. This narrative cruises along in a rather slow and leisurely pace, possibly agreeable to the tastes of a very specific demographic of readers, but lamentably not my cup of tea.
Some might consider the pace of this novel to be a fitting echo of the very serenity of the exotic natural environment so forefronted in the novel. It seemed somewhat unfortunate however that such an artistic choice comes with unignorable collateral damage — the novel appeared to mostly lack the crucial literary element of tension and tension building, rendering the narrative potentially much less engaging and captivating than can be. This did not preclude however the notion that this novel is indeed composed of good writing, and is lucid and highly readable.
Personally, the novel in its entirety subverted my expectations. The central premise of the novel as preliminarily established appeared to be the battle between a local community and local conservationists against foreign commercial interests. This plot conveyed through the subject matter of copper mining however soon emerged to be merely a subplot that eventually was only granted a rather casual, and what I would consider an exceptionally minimal resolution, at the very end of the novel.
And before this rather convenient resolution to this copper mining subplot, and to my distaste, the novel appeared to deviate into an almost entirely unrelated subplot of romance and alcoholism. These two subplots — a prospective copper mining project and environmentalism on one hand, and romance and alcoholism on the other — mostly appeared to be linked rather tenuously; both subplots revolved around the male and female protagonists.
It certainly wasn’t satisfying for me as a reader when the novel made an abrupt leap from a plot that dealt predominantly with issues, politics, regulatory and more, of environmentalism to that which principally focused on relating the flirting and budding romance between the male and female protagonists, and the tight interlocking of their lives with the problem of alcoholism. I concede the author’s unmistakably meaningful depiction of the protagonists’ heartfelt and genuine struggles with alcoholism and the harrowing impact of alcoholism on their lives and family; it seemed a very sincere commentary of the dark recesses to which human struggles could descend to. This break in plot continuity and flow however got me questioning the author’s judgment in narrative organization and structure.
It wasn’t to my liking that the narrative gave the impression of morphing mid-novel into that of a romance novella with an entirely different focal point. This transition into a primarily romantic plot with emphasis on human vulnerability seemed to be at the expense of the very plot preliminarily established in the novel; it minimally advanced it. As a reader, my anticipation following the novel’s rather promising enquiry in the first half of the book into issues and politics of animal conservation and extinction, potential exploitation and misleading of local communities, and matters of industry, development and employment within the context of the copper mining plot, regrettably gave way to confusion as I began to puzzle over the novel’s actual focus.
This might not have been the perfect read for me. This novel nonetheless managed to pique my interest in the topic of copper mining and issues related to this commercial activity in the real world. As for readers who enjoy bits of the environmental conversation interjected with equal parts romance and a somewhat depressing look at human flaws, weaknesses, and vulnerability, this book might be a potential suitor in the sea of prospective reading material.
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Ashland Creek Press and TLC Book Tours for this review.