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Strongbow's Wife: The Normans in Ireland through the eyes of the woman who married their leader Kindle Edition
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|Length: 152 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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Very highly recommended
First, the novel maintains the same pace throughout from 1166 to 1187. The characters endure betrayal, war, local dissatisfaction and disturbances but, although these are announced from time to time, I felt as though we were provided announcements of the scene changes of a tableau. I missed the fear of marauders, the contempt of the saints, etc.
Secondly, the story is told in the first person, Strongbow's wife herself, beginning when she was a maid just thirteen years old and ending when she is a widow of thirty-four. But the tone of her story never changes. It could all have been dictated at the end of her career, a common enough literary device.
Thirdly, for a piece of historical fiction, it bears a strangely a-historical feel. At the beginning, we are introduced to a woman who was "only forty-four." This reader is astounded to learn of the perception of age in the twelfth century when life expectancy could not have been much beyond forty. If Mor O'Toole was an unusual case, perhaps we could have had a hint.
At the end of Lady Aoife's story, she entertains a writer who aspired to "a saga in the ancient Greek tradition." I am sorry to say that this undermines whatever confidence I had in the author's perspective on history. I think of all the lectures I listened to that spoke of the middle ages as the dark ages, of how the classics of Greece and Rome had to be re-discovered during the Renaissance.
The writing is serviceable but the historical perspective appears off. Even as the good Lady went on about encouraging woodcarving as a cottage industry I had the uneasy feeling that the lenses were wrong - that the management of large estates as described belongs more to a later century.
Since the story is told in the first person of Aoife, whose experiences happen outside political and military circles, the reader learns about much the fighting, the tense discussions of strategy, and the negotiations for treaties secondhand. I felt this unfortunate as I enjoyed the firsthand description of their trip to England at the beginning and almost thought I could taste the salt in the spray that hit my face.
The author undoubtedly conducted extensive research into this period of Irish history, and I have learned a lot about Ireland that I did not know. That the young Aoife comes into her own when she is widowed early in life seems natural given her intelligence, but again, due to the story unfolding from her point of view, the reader learns about important events surrounding her transition only after they occur. When Aoife travels to Striguil with her protector, Fergal, we don’t learn about his presence until after they arrive, when we see Fergal undertaking some action on Aoife’s behalf.
As I became immersed in the story, I wondered why the author used the anglicized version of some names and not others. For example, Aoife’s father Diarmait became Dermot. Several terms too modern for the period also caught my attention, especially as they appear in the heroine’s first-person account of events. Finally, I would be remiss if I did not comment upon the title of the book. Aoife’s marriage covered only six of the 21 years spanned by the book, and we live in times when a woman's relationship with a man does not define her. Considering these points and that the story aims to portray a woman’s resilience and leadership in a man’s world, perhaps a different title could be found?
An interesting read for those who enjoy history and wish to know more about past conflicts in Ireland.