Tuesday, March 20, 2012
New Review: Ana Seymour’s Irish Historical Trilogy – Tales from 16th Century Ireland
Ana Seymour wrote a trilogy (THE BLACK SWAN, ROSE IN THE MIST and THE IRISH GYPSY), which for the most part, takes place in Ireland in the 16th century. Then she wrote a 4th, closely related book (MAID OF KILARNEY), so it’s really a series of four in my mind. Here’s the review:
THE BLACK SWAN
Seymour can certainly write well. Her dialog is interesting and her characters (especially the men) are multi-faceted and worth knowing. But this first in the series (unlike the others) disappointed me because she included elements that were contrived. Eventually, the story picked up once she introduced the rebel Shane O'Neill, a real person who was an Irish king of the O'Neill dynasty of Ulster in the mid 16th century. From then on the plot held my interest. But the romance never persuaded me and the heroine was a little too perfect.
Set in Ireland in 1562, the story begins by two warring clans (the Riordans and the O'Donnells) settling a blood feud between by a marriage between the oldest Riordan son and the eldest O'Donnell daughter. They are betrothed when the girl is only 10. Now 19, Claire O'Donnell is married to Cormac Riordan, but no one told her of the Riordan curse that claims their brides, often in childbed, within the first year of marriage. Cormac, thinking to defeat the curse, weds her but refuses to bed her. Her family is so appalled by his deserting her on their wedding night that her brother, a hot head, stabs and kills Cormac's father. (Seemed a bit over the top to me, too.)
Here are the improbable events that made the story seem contrived: (1) A girl of 19 would not be allowed to speak for her family/clan in the 16th century when the head of the clan, her father, was alive. Just wouldn't happen. (2) Claire's moving into the Riordan castle would not make acceptable the unworthy blood price of 100 gold crowns for the senior Riordan's life. (3) Cormac tries to avoid being alone with Claire so he goes to her bedchamber to thank her for saving his colt--? Please. He could have thanked her anywhere. (4) She is little miss perfect wife and castle hostess and Cormac's brothers, who until then hated all O'Donnells for killing their father, suddenly love her. Don't think so. And there were more unrealistic things going on before page 100. Then about page 100 the story began to include the historical elements that made it interesting.
ROSE IN THE MIST
This is second in the trilogy was set in 1558 (Prologue), and 1565, and tells the story of Catriona (“Cat”) O’Malley, whose father was killed by the English and the O’Malley lands seized when she was 13. Taken to England to be raised as the ward of a British lord, and given an English surname, Cat becomes one of Queen Elizabeth’s ladies in waiting, everyone believing her to be English. No one knows Cat is an Irish lass and a spy for the Irish rebels. When two Irish emissaries come from England’s enemy, Shane O’Neill, to negotiate a peace treaty, Cat finds herself working against them. She doesn’t want peace; she wants Ireland for the Irish. One of the emissaries, Niall Riordan, youngest of the three Riordan brothers, is smitten with Cat, but she seems disinterested. In fact, she is intrigued with him but knows she must betray him…
Better than the first, this story was believable and lacked any clearly improbable events. The only thing I found hard to believe was that Cat never seemed to resent the way the Riordan brothers acted toward her. In real life she would have resented their indifferent and sometimes harsh treatment. Other than that, it was an entertaining story with enough history of the time to qualify as a “real” historical romance.
THE IRISH GYPSY
Set in 1567 (Prologue) and 1574, it tells the story of Maura, daughter of an Irish lass and a Gypsy leader. Raised with the Gypsies, Maura is steeped in their folklore and wisdom. When her father dies, she flees the new leader who is a lecherous, vile man. As she does, she steals the horse of Eamon Riordan, middle brother in the Riordan family to aid her escape to England (she sells the horse for food). Years later, Maura returns to Ireland, and through a series of events, becomes governess to Cormac Riordan’s three adorable children. When Eamon discovers Maura hiding in his own home, he decides to keep her secret.
Like the others, this also has references to the O”Neill rebellion and historical events, though only this one has any contact with Queen Elizabeth’s court and it was my favorite. This third book takes place entirely in Ireland. It’s fairly good and the writing and dialog are well done. Neither the hero nor the heroine is the best of those in the trilogy but are still worthy characters.
MAID OF KILARNEY
While not strictly a part of Seymour's Irish historical trilogy, this should be a part of the series. And, it may be the best of the four. It includes some of the same characters from ROSE IN THE MIST, including the hero, Dr. John Black.
When the story opens in 1576, John Black is a 45-year-old doctor/politician/warrior taking some time off to relax and visit the daughter of the woman he loved as a youth. Catriona ("Cat") is now wed to Niall Riordan (their story is told in book #2) and living in Killarney. On his way to visit them, John saves a girl named Daphne from an attempted drowning by bullies and takes her home to her mother, Lily, known as the Witch of Whistler's Woods. Lily is hiding from a past of shame and her family's rejection, but she is increasingly concerned her lame daughter wants more people in her life than just her mother. John offers to help Daphne walk better, but Lily is hesitant. She's been hurt by trusting men before...
This is a story of second chances...the story of a man who lost his first love and a woman who was betrayed by hers. I loved the more mature man that was John Black though there was a time in the story when I questioned his less than honorable intentions toward Lily. Lily was a survivor as only a single mother who loves her child can be. It's a worthy tale, well-told and I can recommend it.