Their doomed love affair became fodder for poets and no less an author than Washington Irving, who put a popular romantic spin on the relationship between Sarah Curran and Robert Emmet.
Bold Robert Emmet, the hero of Ireland, features more prominently in history because he is a man and it's usually the men we read about. The really interesting story is that of Sarah Curran, and Katie Hanrahan has applied a masterful touch to this telling.
Sarah is shown as the offspring of a tyrant whose public persona is revered to this day. Using historical documents, the author paints an engrossing picture of a Regency-era woman trying to make the best match possible when her social circle consists of radically liberal thinkers. Her attraction to Robert Emmet grows as much from sentiment as from rebellion as she refuses to abandon the young man when political expediency drives her father to forbid contact with the Emmet family.
Those who know Irish history will find an intriguing view of Emmet's failed rebellion and subsequent refusal to leave Ireland without his beloved Sarah. With the novel told through her eyes, the reader is immersed in her desperate effort to send Emmet on his way before he can be captured and executed. Even more intriguing is the historically accurate depiction of her life after her father essentially throws her under the bus, as they say, when the authorities get too close to his own involvement in the rebellion.
With the romance stripped away, the story follows Sarah's steps to a normal, and socially acceptable, life as a wife and mother. It is a delight to read about a real person, rather than the wilting flower that has come down the ages. With no resources Sarah becomes highly resourceful, putting her life back together before fate once again strikes with cold cruelty.
MERCY FIRST AND LAST is a page-turner that is impossible to put down, a must for fans of historical fiction that provides a new perspective on a well-known event.
Katie Hanrahan’s newest novel tells the story of Sarah Curran, the daughter of a radical Irish politician. Though only 26 when she died of tuberculosis in 1808, Sarah led a life of rebellion and passion that inspired Irish poet Thomas More, who is also featured in the story, to write ballads inspired by her life and the love she shared briefly with Robert Emmet, a man not approved of by Sarah’s father.
While the story focuses a great deal on Sarah and Robert’s clandestine relationship, it really is the story of a young woman making her own way in the world. Living during a time when women had very few of their own resources, and even fewer healthcare options, it was a hard life for many, Sarah included.
I learned quite a bit about Irish history from reading this book, which was a welcome surprise. I was familiar with Sarah Curran’s name but not enough to know anything about her life, as short as it was. Hanrahan did a quality job of bringing this fascinating character to life in a believable way. The chapters are short, but I never felt I was missing anything. Instead, this allowed me to be drawn more into Sarah’s story, and I felt compelled to keep reading.