Monday, June 19, 2017

The Irish Tempest by Elizabeth J. Sparrow

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: June 14, 2017

Ireland, 1911: After seven centuries of unyielding oppression, there is a tempest rising, a national yearning for Irish independence. It threatens to sweep away all that is precious to the very privileged O'Rourke and de la Roche families. Seismic changes are but a whisper away. What begins as a squabbling friendship between the wastrel Courtland O'Rourke and the defiant, mischief-making Lacey de la Roche matures into a deeply passionate, tempestuous love, fraught with secrets of lethal consequences and sins of omission. In this debut historical novel, The Irish Tempest beckons the reader into a world, where landowner and tenant farmer, the well-off and the working-class are chafing under the chokehold of British domination. Pulled apart by personal and social conflicts, Court and Lacey experience the world from perspectives both transformative and destructive. Court, compelled to accept a commission in the British army, initiates a disastrous affair with rippling aftershocks. Lacey, fueled by the arrogance of adolescence, is beguiled by a charismatic but sociopathic horse trainer. The Irish Tempest thrusts the reader into the anguish of the 1916 Easter Rising and beyond as Ireland seethes on the cusp of revolution. Deftly paced with vividly drawn characters, The Irish Tempest embraces historical elements while preserving the essence of evocative storytelling.

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The signatories of the Proclamation: Tom Clarke,
Seán MacDiarmada, Thomas MacDonagh, Patrick Pearse,
Éamonn Ceannt, James Connolly, and Joseph Plunkett.
Elizabeth J. Sparrow’s The Irish Tempest is marketed as a historical romance, but it should be understood that the ratio is round about 30:70 in favor of fitful mewling and surging loins. There’s nothing wrong with that, romance is a booming genre with an avid readership, but I personally prefer historic romance that is weighted in the other direction.

The jacket places certain emphasis on the Rising so let’s start there. The beginning of the insurrection is traditionally marked by Pearse’s reading of the 1916 Proclamation outside the GPO. The declaration was signed by seven of the movement’s leaders, but for some unknown reason Sparrow mentions only five: Tom Clarke, James Connelly, Joseph Plunkett, Thomas MacDonagh, and Patrick Pearse. The remaining two, Sean MacDiarmada and Eamonn Ceannt, are entirely omitted from the text and replaced by Michael Collins and Éamon de Valera. I was annoyed as hell that Sparrow eclipsed the Rising with a scene of attempted rape, but there's simply no excuse to have dropped two of the key players from enjoying their moment in the limelight.

On a similar note, the Rising didn’t just happen. It wasn’t planned at the last moment and the ideals that drove it weren’t new. Clarke himself had been fighting for the cause of Irish freedom since the late 1870s. Tensions had been steadily increasing for years, but Sparrow’s narrative ignores this reality and fumbles any and all development of the political landscape that shaped these men and their ideals. I wanted these concepts to take center stage, the prominence placed on them in the description are why I picked up the book, but at the end of the day the subject matter wasn’t central to the story at hand and that fact left me bitterly disappointed.

The love story didn’t interest me and I can’t say I cared much for Sparrow’s cast, but I’m not above giving the author credit where due. There are passages in this piece that are downright lyrical and I found much of the dialogue humorous and entertaining. There’s also noticeable build up to the conflict between Collins and de Valera in the final chapters of the story and I like how that attention sets the stage for the intended sequel.

Not a complete wash, but not something I see myself recommending to fellow readers.

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There is an inevitable forgetfulness that comes with inheriting a privileged albeit circumscribed life. When there is wealth and abundant resources to pass on to the next generation, one may forget that those ancestral woes—the devastation of blight and famine, the theft of birthright and property, the debasement of language and culture—still may claim a person, in the here and now of one’s very indulgent existence.
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