Paul Clayton's Reviews > The Princes of Ireland

The Princes of Ireland by Edward Rutherfurd
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Aug 17, 10

Read from June 10 to August 14, 2010

Historical novels can be simply human dramas set in historical times, or they can be human dramas woven into historical events, to bring those events to life. We can learn a great deal from the latter, and I feel like I did with Edward Rutherfurd’s The Princes of Ireland. As an American with 100 percent Irish ancestry (McLaughlin) on my mother’s side, and, probably 100 percent English, or mixed English/Irish ancestry on my father’s side (Clayton), I have often wondered about the long running and mixed up history of the Irish, and their English connections. More than any history I have read, Rutherfurd’s novel has helped me to get a hand hold on that. Now I will go back to some of the history books I have on the subject and hopefully glean much more from them than I did before.

Using the clan histories to lead us through the mists of time, Rutherfurd does not go too deeply into the psyches of his characters. Although I prefer the kind of novels that do, this is, of course, an obvious choice on Rutherfurd’s part, given the breadth of the story he is telling, and that’s understandable. The later chapters do bring the reader closer to their characters as the novel gallops to a conclusion.

I especially enjoyed the writer’s delineation of the subtleties of the English conquest – a devious English king, the shared religion of the English and Irish (Catholicism), a foolish Irish Lord who betrays his people, and the descriptions of the differences between the English royal political system of the time and the Irish tribal system.

The book is a long one, about 775 pages, but a good one, bringing this reader back evening after evening, much like Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth did. And as a writer who is currently trying to sell a 500-page novel (White Seed: The Untold Story of the Lost Colony of Roanoke), when I read somewhere that an agent or editor said that you can’t sell big books like this anymore because people either don’t have the patience or the time to read them, I feel like getting on a plane to NYC, then jumping into a cab, taking the elevator up to the 19th floor, searching out the offender, and hitting him upside the head with my copy of Princes, or Pillars. (Sorry, I had to get that off my chest.) Anyway, don’t let the length put you off.

In the latter portion of the novel, the Joan Doyle/Margaret Walsh feud, the Tidy marriage, the O’Byrnes, and other relationships, are skillfully used by Rutherfurd to enjoyably highlight the complicated life of Ireland, both within and beyond the pale.

To sum up, The Princes of Ireland is a damn good novel, very much in the Michener tradition. I’ve already picked up a copy of Sarum, and will, at a later date, go on to The Rebels of Ireland.
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Reading Progress

06/10/2010 "So far, I'm enjoying it. But I am a little surprised by how little violence there is..."
06/10/2010 "Not that I crave violence, it's just that this book is about ancient people and they could be a little rough with each other once in a while..."

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Stephen (new) - added it

Stephen Gallup Thanks for the recommendation. My interest in Ireland goes way back, so I'll have to make room for this one.


Paul Clayton Anytime, Steve. And thanks for your recommendations.


message 3: by Marge (new) - added it

Marge Begley Give 'em a good whack for me too :)
Plan to read this book for sure


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