As per my list of books I own that need to be read, I made my way through The Princes of Ireland, written by Edward Rutherford. I’m not sure why, but I don’t always do well with sweeping epic stories. I find that sometimes they are too encompassing. This book was not the best book that I have ever read, but it certainly isn’t the worst. I would give it 3.5/5 stars- a low B, if you will. There are a few things that led to this conclusion:
I thought that Rutherford would follow the same families throughout the book, but he introduces new families in each section (that are loosely linked to a previous family). I’m not positive, but I think that he might revisit the same families in The Rebels of Ireland. I wouldn’t quote me on that though, I haven’t really looked into it. I found it difficult, as I didn’t really care about yet another character. He is English, and so the English characters are given a great deal of word space. I don’t know how I feel about this, being the princes of Ireland and all.
The other element that really irked me was that Rutherford would insert semi-historical exposition into the story. It felt clunky, and to be honest, was not entirely necessary to the story. Those particular passages felt like he had taken an intro-level Irish history textbook, and tried to make them slightly less academic. People shouldn’t be reading historical fiction to study history (if their aim is to truly study history), so I feel that they were extraneous. My other issue with these passes is that a lot of the ideas that he presents as facts are quite contentious in the medieval Irish field. It isn’t his place to do this. There is also a note about Lambert Simnel that I won’t go into (though feel free to comment if you are familiar with his story) that really makes me question Rutherford.
My third and final issue is the pacing, particularly the length of chapters. 150+ pages per chapter is too long- I don’t like stopping in the middle of chapters, and chapters of this length do not allow me to pick it up and read for a shorter amount of time. Divisions are a good thing! The book also ended suddenly, which I didn’t love.
Stil, it is an interesting story. This is a society that I have spent, and still spend, hour upon hour studying. I find medieval Ireland to be fascinating, and it was wonderful to spend the time imagining what these individuals must have experienced in terms of their personal lives. Surviving sources do not offer much insight into this, so although this is fiction, it allows my imagination some room to run in a familiar setting. He creates characters that are intriguing, and although I wasn’t terribly attached to any of them, I was happy to spend some time with them. Also, he gives a shout out to Professor Howard B. Clarke who is one of the most brilliant, engaging, intelligent academic and human being that you would ever have the good fortune to meet. I was lucky enough to audit his Medieval Dublin seminar whilst I was at University College, Dublin, and I am still grateful for that opportunity. Anything that he has a hand in is worth reading!!
If you are interested in historical sagas, medieval fiction, or long-form writing, I would most definitely recommend this to you. The book does come together in it’s length, so if you have the time, give it a read! Next on my list is Pedigree Mum by Fiona Gibson, some nice and light chick-lit!