Juilene Osborne-McKnight, Daughter of Ireland (Forge, 2002)
In the past few years, it's been pretty much a given in the fantasy genre that "The Good Old Days" refers to ancient polytheistic societies where a benevolent Goddess ruled supreme, women were revered because they created life and men were kept firmly in their place. All this ended when men figured out that they had a role in conception and invented monotheism and its stern Gods who kept women in their place.
It's refreshing to find a book with a slightly different take on things.
In Aislinn ni Sorar's Ireland, the fellest of the old deities is a Goddess, the Morragu. The new God of light, of whom some had heard rumors from the Romans in Britain and who revealed himself to Cormac Mac Art, not only is not an evil oppressor, but has the support of Brighid of the Other. This certainly conforms more to the historical reality of how Christianity came to Ireland.
Daughter of Ireland is more historical fiction than fantasy, so long as you're Irish enough to accept that the Other may be part of history. Several of the main characters really existed, such as Cormac Mac Art and his sons and Fionn Mac Cumhail. There are a couple of stock elements of fantasy, such as the quest, but we only come in near the end of that. The ending isn't exactly a traditional happy one, but it is full of hope.
There's a bit of sex in the book. Most of it, fortunately, is lovemaking. I suspect some of the nudity to be thrown in to make a point. Some of the villains are into abuse and kink, but more is suggested than is shown. As for the violence, it's hard to avoid in that time period, but it isn't dwelt on any more than the sex is, and even the fight scenes aren't obsessively graphic.
McKnight includes a bibliography and a glossary, as well as historical background notes on how she came to tell the story of Aislinn ni Sorar in this way, and on the relationship between "reality" and the Other in Ireland. She says on page 291, "It is not easy to separate myth from history; in ancient Ireland the line between the real and the unreal was not so much a line as a river or a curling ribbon. The worlds of myth, spirit, and invention were not looked upon as separate from (or incompatible with) the worlds of science or history."
McKnight goes on to speak of the place of women in Celtic society. They had rights unheard of to many of their contemporaries, and could attain rank, power and education. If you're interested in a look at a strong, educated Celtic woman of a few centuries later, explore Peter Tremayne's stories of Sister Fidelma. There are many similarities between Sister Fidelma and Aislinn ni Sorar strength of body and will, education, religious convictions.
Juilene Osborne-McKnight's Web site is here.
She has published two other novels, I Am of Irelaunde and Bright Sword of Ireland.