123 of 128 people found the following review helpful
on April 22, 2004
Having read and immensely enjoyed two of Rutherfurd's previous books - 'Sarum' and 'The Forest' - I was really looking forward to this book. It was slightly disappointing in comparison with the author's other work, but not too much so. Those who've read Rutherfurd before will know that he writes in a style very much like that of the late James Michener (though I find him much more readable than Michener). His books focus on one particular area and trace the lines of several fictional families down through time. This particular novel, the first of a two-book work, is centered around Dublin, Ireland.
There are five basic sub-stories which serve as 'windows' into history. The first begins in AD 430 and tells the love story of an Irish prince and the woman whom he wishes to marry. The king himself wants the girl for his bride, so the prince and his girl are forced to flee and live in hiding. Rutherfurd weaves many real historical events into the writing, which gives the story a great richness. Toward the end of this first section we witness the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, the coming of St. Patrick, and the effect of the new faith upon those who uphold the old druidic traditions.
The second story brings us forward more than five centuries to AD 981, and focuses on the events sparked by the coming of the Vikings to Ireland. The main characters here are direct descendants of those in the first story, and we see some things passed down through the generations. One Irish family carries an old, gold-rimmed drinking skull all the way down to the end of the book. As time passes, Rutherfurd brings in the famous Brian Boru, and we see the way the power balance works in Ireland - an important theme throughout the book.
The middle two stories are where I found most of my disappointment. The first unfolds under the rule of the English Strongbow beginning in 1167, and the second leaps to 1370 and focuses briefly on the ongoing English / Irish struggles. Both of these two sections span only one chapter each and seem extremely underdeveloped, especially the second one. Character development is minimal, a few families are nearly entirely ignored, and the plot is brief and not memorable. The writing seems rushed as well, as if Rutherfurd himself couldn't wait to be finished with it.
The final story, however, redeems the book, and I did enjoy it. Set in the 16th century, it recalls the influence in Ireland of the infamous English king, Henry VIII, his dissolution of the monasteries, and the ill-fated resistance movement of 'Silken Thomas,' the 10th Earl of Kildare. There are several interwoven and well-developed stories here, and the characters are also more fully rounded. The ending is not quite as satisfying as I would have liked, but of course one must remember that there is a second book coming, so perhaps that will give it the needed resolution. Nevertheless, the last few lines of the book are quite well done and are sure to leave the reader with a smile.
Overall, it's a very good book, though not Rutherfurd's best. I wish he'd put a little more emphasis on family ties, as he has done previously. We see the drinking skull passed down, but it isn't ever used (save for the very first story, and then its demise as the end of the book). It just sits there. In Rutherfurd's other books, a passed-down object is used and loved (or sometimes abused) by the family members that possess it through the generations.
Similarly, the green eyes of the Fergus descendants and the red hair of the Harold family are common themes, but there just isn't a real feeling of connectedness within the families from one period of history to the next. I found myself having to constantly flip to the geneology tables to remember who was descended from whom. In addition, not all the families trace back to the beginning of the book. The Tidy family shows up for the first time in the fourth part of the book, and only plays a major role in the final section. There is no real feeling of history behind them.
I did, however, very much enjoy the historical context of the book. Rutherfurd has done a tremendous amount of research and it shows. He has done some tweaking here and there for the story's sake - this is fiction after all - but the basic framework is all there. All the major events in Irish history are wonderfully laid out here, and I even learned many new things. Rutherfurd includes a note at the end that distinguishes the factual elements of the story from the fictional. Solid fans of Rutherfurd's books may be slightly disappointed, but this is still a very good book. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in Ireland, historical fiction, or both.
80 of 90 people found the following review helpful
Edward Rutherford has a particular style of writing historical fiction that seems to be completely his: he picks a very specific location and writes a story starting at the dawn of civilization peeking in at the place at important periods as history moves forward. Using family lines and maps and a good helping of historical figures, he works to give you a sense of a place through time. He's done this for Salisbury, England in the novel Sarum and for London in the novel of the same name. Now he's done the same for Dublin in this novel, the first of a proposed two novels on the city.
I enjoyed both Sarum and London. There is much about Rutherford's style I like. He writes big novels with a huge cast of characters. He explains things so that you get not only a sense of how the place developed but also how things like language, names and people changed through the centuries. On top of that, he tells a story with enough intrigue and fun to keep you going.
However, it may be that Rutherford's gotten a little too comfortable with what he does or I've read too much of him, but the worst of his tendencies are on display here. His need to explain history was more obvious than usual in the opening chapters. Unfortunately, I think the better chapters of this novel are the later ones where the plot of the story seems to come to the fore over history. And, even though he doesn't let any of the main characters get the comeuppance they deserve, at least he sets-up readable intrigues--the best of the novel if you make it 500 pages in.
I think I'm most irritated by the immutability of his families from generation to generation. Reading Rutherford, you get the sense that he believes there are "good" families and "bad" families whose nature is passed on as much as hair and eye color which Rutherford puts on prominent display. (In fact, there is even an eye "squint" that gets passed on in this novel.) In his other novels, families didn't seem so entirely unchanging though the threads are there.
Perhaps what I'm missing most is the closure of his previous novels. This novel ends in the 16th century. Unlike his previous novels, we have to wait for volume 2 to get up to modern times. Maybe some of the surprises await us there. I just hope enough readers are interested in The Princes of Ireland to bother with volume 2. I like Rutherford enough to give him the benefit of the doubt. I hope other readers do too.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on November 3, 2004
I have made a point of reading every book that I see by Mr. Rutherfurd since I read Sarum several years ago. Once again, he has written a wonderful novel that mixes historical facts, real places, real people, and an epic timeline with fictional characters to produce an entertaining and educational work.
Mr. Rutherfurd is one of those novelists that take a place and craft a story around that place over many centuries, populating it with facts and people that make history come alive. He has carried on with this effort. I must admit, I didn't find it quite as interesting as Sarum, Ruska or the Forest, but it still is one of the better historical novels that I have read in the last year or two.
My star ratings:
One star - couldn't finish the book
Two stars - read the book, but did a lot of skipping or scanning. Wouldn't add the book to my permanent collection or search out other books by the author.
Three stars - enjoyable read. Wouldn't add the book to my permanent collection. Would judge other books by the author individually.
Four stars - Liked the book. Would keep the book or would look for others by the same author.
Five stars - One of my all time favorites. Will get a copy in hardback to keep and will actively search out others by the same author.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Rutherfurd has done it again; perhaps not as well as before but his batting average remains impressive.
The Princes Of Ireland is not a novel you'll devour in a single night-some might; most of us are slower readers. It undertakes to give us the panorama of Irish history from the time of the Druids down to the reign of Henry VIII, replete with love, lust, battle and political intrigue.
As in his previous epics, he portrays history through the intertwining fortunes of a number of families conjoined with an interesting selection of historical figures including St. Patrick, Brian Boru, Henry II and Henry VIII. A principal player-though not a person-is the place known as Dubh Linn which becomes the country's principal seaport and center of power.
Edward Rutherfurd is a novelist, not a historian. It is characters and plot that must carry his story, particularly a lengthy one like this. In Sarum, London and The Forest it was the characters we came to love (or hate) who impelled us to read on. Here, the characters are no less intriguing. If there is fault to be found in this novel it is that in a few places he allowed a lecture on history to slow down the narrative. Some may have found that detrimental and failed to read on. For those of us who persevered, the delay was worthwhile as we learned something we didn't know before.
This is the first of two novels focusing on Dublin and Ireland. I look forward to the next installment.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on May 5, 2006
I have read most of Edward Rutherfurd's historical novels ands on the my personal Rutherfurd Scale, I rate this book #3 behind only Sarum and London, but ahead of its sequel, the Rebels of Ireland, the Forest, and certainly well above Russka.
With good reason Rutherfurd is always compared to James Michener. Their works both tell sweeping histories through fiction by following several families through time. Their books are not Great Literature, but I do find Rutherfurd to be a consistently better novelist than Michener.
The Princes or Ireland focuses on Dublin and the area 'beyond the pale' over a span of 11 centuries beginning in 450 C.E. He spins his yarns around the fascinating tales of the Druids, St. Patrick, the Book of Kells, Brian Boru, the Vikings, and the English. Good historical fiction not only entertains, but it also leads the reader to want to learn more. Rutherfurd succeeds again.
An excellent read for anyone interested in Ireland, the Druids, the spread of Christianity, the beginnings of English colonialism or history in general. Highly recommended.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
I have read all of Rutherford's books ~~ Russka, Sarum, London, and the Forest. When Amazon announced this book was coming out, I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy of Princes of Ireland. Normally, when I get a Rutherford's book ~~ I knew that I was in for a long haul of entertaining and informative reading ~~ and he didn't disappoint in that respect, but this book isn't as good as his others. I really enjoy reading about the Celtic culture ~~ but somehow I feel as if he skimmed over a good portion of Ireland's history.
It has been said that every Irish person is descended from kings and queens. This book shows a definitive lineage for several families that Rutherford writes about. Their stories were well-crafted in the times they lived ~~ and I found the characters interesting and real as most people are through the tests of time. There may be a bit more historical facts this time in this book than in his other books ~~ which does help me understand the times of each character and why he/she did the things they did.
It is an interesting read ~~ more suited for winter nights than a beach read as it is a heavy tome. If you are a Rutherford fan, this book will not disappoint you even if it isn't as good as the others were ~~ he still weaves a wonderful tale of people lost in the mists of time. If you are new to Rutherford's books, this is just as a good place to start.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 14, 2005
Edward Rutherford has proved with such novels as Russka , Sarum , London and The Forest , that he is a great historical novelist in the mould of James Michener.
In this wseeping saga of Ireland , we are taken from the eloping and flight of the striking Deirdre and her lover , Conall in 430 to the destruction of Ireland's ancient monastic heirlooms , during the Reformation , in 1537.
Rutherford traces the fortunes and interactions of several Irish families down the centuries-the O 'Byrnes , the Harolds , the MCGowans , Doyles , Walshes and Tidys.
Through the sweep of Irish history which Rutherford covers , it is also rich in human interaction and empathy as we get to know the wonderful men and women of Ireland through the ages , as the families and traditions of the nation are moulded.
Enough to get you hooked on history.
I will certainly look forward to reading the sequel.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 2005
Not a history fan? Don't worry. The interlaced stories of these families over the course of 1000+ years of Ireland's history should please just about anyone. Even though the characters change as the scope of history changes, the development of those characters is rich and the stories around them stay interesting. This book has to be somewhere in my top 5.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 21, 2006
I love Edward Rutherford's style of writing and his sagas are extremely readable and interesting. His characters are very real, and it's nice to see the families and their descendents over the years. This book details the history of the beautiful Emerald Isle from abour 450 AD to the reign of Henry VIII. What a culture these Irish people have! Their lives have never been easy on this beautiful island, and the book begins to point out where the problems that are there now stem from. It's ancient history - true, but it seems timely and important the way that Rutherford has written this book. His love for the Irish people and their culture comes through these pages, and he deals with the issues and the history in a warm and non-judgemental way. It's a long book, but it doesn't seem that once you get into the stories of the lives these people.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2004
During his lifetime, James Michener gained a reputation for writing Big Novels, epic sagas that spanned hundreds or thousands of years, and almost as many pages. Edward Rutherfurd now seems poised to inherit Michener's reputation for quantity, if not entirely for quality. In previous novels, Rutherfurd has fictionalized the history of rural England, London and Russia. Now, in THE PRINCES OF IRELAND, Rutherfurd turns his eye to the Emerald Isle, in a novel that spans Irish history from 430 BC to the sixteenth century.
Much like Michener, Rutherfurd's approach focuses on a particular place over time. In this case, the place is Dublin --- known as Dubh Linn or Dyflin in earlier times --- which grew from an isolated estuary ruled by a lesser king to a powerful port city and center of Irish culture. The epic scope of the novel means that it actually reads like a series of shorter stories, each set in a different time but united loosely by their family history (the book includes a very helpful family tree) and by their ties to this particular place.
These stories, centered often on forbidden love between rival families or on vengeance between two families with a blood feud, often take a back seat to the real drama, which is the development of Irish geography, religion and culture over time. Not surprisingly, character development is not the goal here; instead, characters serve as types common to their time rather than as flesh-and-blood individuals. There's the feisty pagan princess who loses her heart to a doomed man, the monk who burns a torch for his childhood sweetheart, the couple driven apart by the rift between Protestants and Catholics. Instead of individual personalities, these characters are primarily combinations of their family's traits (one family are craftspeople, for example, another are scholars).
In addition to being products of their own genetic inheritance and of Irish history, these characters sometimes seem to have a surprisingly encyclopedic knowledge of that history. Rutherfurd interjects historical fact into his novel in various ways, and with varying levels of success. Often he introduces a chapter or section with historical evidence, particularly following a narrative gap of dozens or hundreds of years; elsewhere, he merely interrupts the action and introduces historical facts with phrases like "Historians agree that . . ." Least convincingly, Rutherfurd sometimes puts historical background in the words of the characters themselves, occasionally straining the bounds of credibility. Would an illiterate pagan blacksmith really consider at length the historical debate about the construction of sacred burial mounds as he surveyed the landscape? It seems unlikely.
Despite its flaws, THE PRINCES OF IRELAND will certainly find its devotees among the countless readers who have a particular interest in Irish history and culture. In addition, its sprawling narrative will draw in fans of historical fiction, who will undoubtedly enjoy the scope and ambition of the novel. For those who are daunted by the heft of this 750-page saga, hold on to your seats --- THE PRINCES OF IRELAND is just part one of a projected two-part Dublin Saga that will narrate the history of Ireland up to the twentieth century.
--- Reviewed by Norah Piehl