Leigh Ann’s Recs No. 9 – The Wild Irish

Book cover for The Wild Irish by Robin Maxwell, Author of The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn. The quote at the bottom in the tan border reads, "Compelling, exhilarating, and thought-provoking." according to the Boston Irish Reporter. At the top half of the cover are two portraits mashed together. Grace O'Malley, a middle-aged white woman wearing a fur coat and a gold chain, is left and foregrounded. Elizabeth is slightly behind and to the right, egregiously decorated with pearls and gold, and wearing a white ruffle around her throat. She is sideglancing towards the left, while Grace seems to be looking towards the viewer. In a red Irish-knot border between the portraits and title is the text A Novel of Elizabeth I and the Pirate O'Malley. Source: amazon.com/Wild-Irish-Elizabeth-Pirate-OMalley/dp/0060091436

Typically I find it difficult to enjoy reading historical fictions. For me, it comes down to a few factors:

  • POV. If this is a first-person (I/we) narrative, no thank you. It’s just not my cup of tea. I feel it’s super presumptuous to write historical figures, actual living human beings of the past, in first-person. You’re not their diary! You can’t know.
  • Accuracy. In case you haven’t realized, we have Google at our fingertips almost 24/7. If my suspension of disbelief is pushed past its limits, I can and will Google what’s bothering me. If your historical fiction is taking too many liberties, like a Victorian household only having salt and pepper and not that third mystery shaker (probably mustard), I’m gonna catch it. I’m gonna be upset. If you’re writing a historical fiction you have to do your research.
  • Characterization. This means the figures in the story need to be fleshed-out, well-rounded characters. And yes, you can do this without resorting to first-person language or overdescribing the characters, setting, and events of the period. Often authors of historical fiction will set up non-main characters, especially female figures, as cardboard cutouts. They’re only there to populate a town, to show that the central figure of the story interacts with or notices more than two people in their lifetimes. I need purpose of character. Why are you including this person in the story? Why are you writing about this at all?

Others can more or less picky about these things, as the author of this blog post.

Generally, as long as you have my three things to look out for checklisted in a story, I’m good.

One author who consistently does this well is Robin Maxwell, author of The Wild Irish. She tells a heavily imagined story of the meeting between Queen Elizabeth I and Grace O’Malley:

Elizabeth, queen of England, has taken on the mighty Spanish Armada and, in a stunning sea battle, vanquished it. But her troubles are far from over. Just across the western channel, her colony Ireland is embroiled in seething rebellion, with the island’s fierce, untamed clan chieftains and the “wild Irish” followers refusing to bow to the English oppressors.

Grace O’Malley—notorious pirate, gunrunner, and “Mother of the Irish Rebellion”—is at the heart of the conflict. For years, she has fought against the English stranglehold on her beloved country. At the height of the uprising Grace takes an outrageous risk, sailing up the Thames to London for a face-to-face showdown with her nemesis, the queen of England.

Under normal circumstances, a heavily imagined story would not do well for me, but Maxwell’s masterful narrative is chock-full of research, which makes the discussions during their meeting all the more plausible, and the events and interpretations highly authentic.

You can find a nice and short review of The Wild Irish here.

Published by modcasters

We’re a group of graduate students studying English Literature and Language on a mission to discuss literature, provide access to those on the deafness and/or blindness spectrum, and rock mustachios.

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