Sunday, September 28, 2014

Gracelin O'Malley by Ann Moore

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Netgalley/Personal Library
Read: September 28, 2014

Gracelin’s father, Patrick, named her for the light of the sea that shone in her eyes. But joy and laughter leave the O’Malley clan when Gracelin is six-and-a-half and tragedy befalls the family. Less than a decade later, Gracelin must put her romantic dreams aside and marry a local landowner, the son of an English lord, to save her loved ones from financial ruin. Although she is a dutiful wife to capricious Bram Donnelly, Gracelin takes dangerous risks. With political violence sweeping through Ireland and the potato blight destroying lives, she secretly sides with the Young Irelanders, among them her brilliant brother, Sean, and the rebel leader Morgan McDonagh. Set against the rise of the Irish rebellion, with a cast of unforgettable characters led by the indomitable eponymous heroine, Gracelin O’Malley weaves a spellbinding story of courage, hope, and passion.

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I think every reviewer has a list. Books they read before they began to chronicle their thoughts, titles that haunt their memory. My list is remarkably short, but Ann Moore's Gracelin O'Malley has topped it for the better part of the last three years which is why I jumped at the opportunity to review it as a new release when the book was reprinted by Open Road Media. 

For the record, I don't think the description does Grace any favors. I've read the book four times and I've never seen her decision to marry Bram as a sacrifice of romantic ideals. To me it's always seemed a practical arrangement, the decision of naive teenager who wishes only to improve the lives of those she loves, but it is the catalyst that forever alters the course of her life. Her volatile marriage forges a steely determination that never would have existed otherwise. This is a character who is truly defined by the adversity she faces and watching her come into her own, witnessing that journey from idealistic girl to resolute and purposeful woman is truly inspiring.

Grace isn't the only memorable character either. Morgan McDonagh is one of the few leading men to have gotten under my skin. A fierce and ambitious patriot, Morgan's experiences with the Young Irelanders could be a novel in and of itself. Bram Donnelly, Sean O'Malley, Patrick O'Malley, Gran Doughtery, Father Brown, Lord Evans, Moira Sullivan, Henry Adams, Aislinn McDonagh, Julia Martin... I usually gravitate to a single character, but Moore presents such a rich ensemble cast that doing so is absolutely impossible. 

Historically, the book is a powerfully detailed story of the great famine. Moore doesn't hold back in her brutally unapologetic portrayal of the crisis. She attacks the political upheaval and rebellion in similar fashion and in so doing, provides readers a comprehensive portrait of nineteenth century Ireland and depravity that drove so many from her shores.

An extraordinary story of family and the lengths one goes to protect it, Gracelin O'Malley is an absolute must. An elegantly crafted fiction that remains with you long after the final page. 

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McDonagh had proven himself a brilliant leader and readily deserving of the praise heaped upon him by the people of Ireland. They thought him invincible, and as long as he traversed the countryside speaking of victory and showing them the way, they continued to hope that the battle would indeed be won. They hid him and fed him, loved him and called him their own son; despite those among them who turned on their own and tried to collect the reward for his capture, McDonagh had remained free—and freed others. Surely God marched with such a man as this, they said, and had McDonagh asked them to swim across the sea and fight England on her own land, they would have done it.
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