This is the third of Ms Bazos's books set during the period of the English Civil Wars, although she does not confine her stories to England. Here she takes us to Ireland and the bloody, desperate fight there to rid the country of the English occupiers. Cleverly, this book's opening scene features the same episode which began the last book, Severed Knot, although you absolutely do not have to read that book to enjoy and understand this, as it is not a sequel and features different characters. I enjoyed this book so much that it is tempting just to gush a list of superlatives, but I shall resist.
There is plenty of drama and nail-biting action in this story but it is still very much character led. And what well-defined characters we have: Áine reveals herself to be shy, thoughtful, given to recalling the stories of old, and yes, folk find her strange. Yet she is no stereotype and she is a careful and clever thinker. Niall is driven by his need to avenge his kin, and he is a battle-hardened warrior but he is no two-dimensional war hero. He wrestles with his conscience, he is torn between loyalty to his kin, and loyalty to his commander, and he also feels responsible for the strange girl he has under his protection. The early scenes where these two puzzle over their feelings, misreading signs or reading too much into them, are a delight. The glances at each other across the crowds, the wondering about words unspoken, all rang so true when describing a young couple falling in love but unsure if their feelings are reciprocated.
There's a fine supporting cast, too, from Niall's comrades in arms to Eireen, the sensible and practical matron, and the baddies are nothing like pantomime villains. I particularly liked the way these enemies were portrayed, so that at any given moment there was more than one suspect for the label of traitor.
Which leads me nicely into a brief comment about the plotting of the novel. In a word, it's superb. It's twisty, it's full of drama and genuine edge-of-the-seat moments, and all the threads were tied neatly together. The author is adept at putting her characters into perilous situations and leaving her readers aghast, unable to work out how they might prevail. The action is cleverly and economically described, by which I mean that the words almost move out of the way so that we can see what's happening in the faster-paced scenes.
And then, there are the quieter, tender moments which are beautifully written. The emotions feel real, recognisably human, and are at times heart-wrenchingly poignant. I'm not ashamed to say that I wept.
The historical detail is impeccably researched, but delivered with a light touch, so that we are plucked from our modern world and dropped into the heart of every scene. We are in the woods at the rebels' camp, we are at the bustling market, we can see every person in the scene, we are holding our breath as the English soldiers pass by...
Strong characters, period setting, action, drama, and a love story. Perfect.
Aine is a dairymaid. The people around her are convinced she has been touched by the faeries and take every opportunity to belittle her. A bad omen can’t prepare her for the devastation that will occur. The English have invaded Ireland and found their way to her master’s home. Everyone is murdered, and she is the only survivor. Niall is a soldier for Ireland, fighting against the English. A last-minute decision to visit his family leads him to heartbreak and to meeting Aine for the first time. She talks to the animals and is a teller of stories, and he is captivated. He takes her to a Rebel camp where they work with others to stand against tyranny, but there is a traitor in their midst.
It is rare to find a historical romance that will immerse readers in historically accurate language, history, and folklore. The invasion of Ireland in the 1600s is such a turbulent time. The author really nailed the authenticity of the courage and fear of this time. The suspense and treachery really make the pages fly by! And the characters—they are utterly delightful and their chemistry is palpable. Niall is the embodiment of patriotism and will not give in to the English. But his admiration of Aine is what really makes him special. She has the courage, but she just needs someone to believe in her. Good luck trying to put this book down and enjoy getting lost in a time of war, survival, and the whispers of magic.