As a Notre Dame grad, I am always in the company of proud Irishmen (and women). Even though St. Patrick’s Day was suppressed for the Fifth Sunday of Lent this year, I managed to wear a little bit of green, and I randomly heard a track from my twin friends’ St. Patrick’s Day compilation on my iPhone as I drove home that night. I have friends who took classes in Irish (which is not called Gaelic). I’m not Irish, but I have a soft spot for them, anyway. Because of this, I had a open mind toward reading the first installment of a new Irish historical fiction series. The potato famine and the plight of immigrants was just an idea for me, so I was interested in reading even a fictional first-hand account in Flight of the Earls.
Flight of the Earls, by Michael K. Reynolds, is the first in the Heirs of Ireland Trilogy. It tells the story of the Hanley family, specifically the second and third children, Clare and Seamus. As the family farm succumbs to the terrifying blight, Clare and Seamus set out for America to seek their fortunes ans save their family. Years before, their uncle and older sister made the same journey, never to be heard from again. Clare and Seamus have a very different journey, one which is filled with fear, tension, surprise, and a tiny undercurrent of hope yet.
I wanted to really like this book, but I didn’t. I found the characters inconsistent. I had trouble figuring out who the main character was as the novel’s perspective shifted unevenly. I’ve never read a family saga before, so maybe that’s part of the problem, but I felt as though I was sold a main character in Clare and had it changed to Seamus two-thirds of the way through. The rises and declines in action felt awkwardly paced. Clare’s character seemed inconsistent; she was alternately deeply faithful and casually faithless, fiercely focused on her commitment to her family and on making a name for herself. The romance seemed forced and just too far beyond belief, although the final object of Clare’s affection was one of the most believable and admirable characters—and he marries into the core family. Shouldn’t my favorite character be a Hanley?
To be honest, I had trouble finishing this book. I wanted the plot lines to be resolved just because I don’t like leaving things unfinished, but I didn’t care about the characters the way I usually do. The details of Irish immigration were rich and eye-opening, but I could have gotten those from nonfiction. If you’re Irish or love Ireland and her people, you might enjoy this book. If you’re looking for compelling fiction, you might need to wait to see what Reynolds has next up his sleeve.
Many thanks to B&H Books for providing a free copy of Flight of the Earls for me to review. I received no other compensation in exchange for my review.
Up next: The Four Loves, a C.S. Lewis classic on real, Christian love