Fantasy Novel Review: The Revenge of Bridget Cleary by Mathilda Zeller

This review is based on an eARC (Advance Reading Copy) provided by the author in exchange for an honest review. The Revenge of Bridget Cleary will be released on October 4, 2022.

Mathilda Zeller’s debut novelette, “The Incident at Veniaminov,” was one of my absolute favorites of last year (if you’d like to take a half-hour and read it, this review will wait), so requesting an ARC for her debut novel, The Revenge of Bridget Cleary, was a no-brainer. 

The Revenge of Bridget Cleary is a young adult novel that takes a real-life event—the brutal murder of Bridget Cleary by family members insisting she’d been replaced by a fairy—as the jumping off point for a fantasy story. In this tale, Bridget Cleary had a half-fairy daughter being punished for her father’s crimes, and she must produce a chest of gold and a chest of blood to win back her place in the fairy court and ensure her mother a proper burial. But with neither easy to come by in her position as a scullery maid, Brigid flees to London in search of coin and vengeance. 

While a romantic subplot marks The Revenge of Bridget Cleary clearly as a young adult work, it tends toward the younger end of the YA spectrum, with a lot of the abruptness I’ve come to expect from works for that audience. Brigid finds herself with opportunities for money-making deception remarkably quickly, and the secondary characters tend to have major revelations that glance over the hard process of changing hearts and minds. 

On the other hand, Brigid herself has real emotional depth, with struggles to comprehend the enormity of her father’s crimes and reconcile herself with the revenge demanded by the fairy court. This internal conflict arises again and again over the course of the novel, buttressed by additional subplots that continue interrogating themes of justice, vengeance, and the possibility of redemption. It walks a difficult balance between hope and an understanding of the darkness of the current situation—with the latter brought to the forefront in repeated reminders of the way the English used the real-life Cleary murder to justify their continued oppression of Ireland. It probably leans more on the hopeful side that one might expect from the subject matter, particularly given some of the secondary characters’ quick reversals, but it’s a book that doesn’t gloss over the darkness to skip ahead to a happy ending. 

As for the plot, I struggled at times with how quickly things moved, but it came together for a clever and satisfying ending that did justice to all of the major characters. The foreshadowing was heavy enough for an experienced reader to predict a few of the twists, but not so heavy that the climax felt perfunctory—it was still a lot of fun seeing the details of how things played out. 

On the whole, I probably wasn’t the intended audience here, and I struggled with some of the pacing and the depth of the secondary characters, but The Revenge of Bridget Cleary was an entertaining read with a fun conclusion and plenty of meditation on justice and redemption. 

Recommended if you like: fast-paced YA fantasy, themes of justice and redemption. 

Can I use it for Bingo? It’s hard mode for Name in the Title, Standalone, Family Matters, Self-Published, and 2022 Release, and also fits Historical SFF. 

Overall rating: 13 of Tar Vol’s 20. Three stars on Goodreads. 

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