The Princes of Ireland: An Update

The Princes of Ireland by Edward Rutherfurd
Read June 11, 2010 – August 7, 2010
Paperback edition, 776 pages
Published by Ballatine, 2004
ISBN: 0-345-47235-7

Well, dear readers, I have finished The Princes of Ireland!

I know many of you are curious as to whether or not my first impression of the novel was accurate. And it was! I loved this book!

I really only have two complaints, and the first complaint isn’t really even valid:

1) The book occassionally lost steam
Um…hello! It’s 776 pages long and covers Irish history from the ancient tribal era to Henry VIII’s reign. It’s unfair to expect a gigantic tome of historic literature to maintain its pace as a page-turning, heart-stopper for almost 800 pages. However Rutherfurd does a superb job of portraying the essence and vitality of each era. I truly fell in love with certain characters and certain families or persons from each century, it was both saddening and exciting as people were lost to the mists of time and new characters were introduced. Rutherfurd was exceptionally successful in narrating and portraying the individuality of each family and each lineage he follows through the centuries. I loved reading as family heirlooms and stories passed from generation to generation.

The authenicity of Rutherfurd’s writing stems from the historical evolution seen between the centuries. Factual accounts become myths, the original meanings of heirlooms are forgotten but their significance maintained. I was completely impressed with Rutherfurd’s talent at portraying both the forest and the trees. As I readThe Princes of Ireland, I was overwhelmed by how thoroughly Rutherfurd mastered history. I became aware of the epic scope of everything! How Catholicism and religious reform played into English and Irish history, the invovlement of the Vikings in the early centuries, and most impressively, he made sense of *exactly* why the Irish hated the English. Amazingly, I think I understand why there is such a contentious relationship between the Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland.

I was slightly disappointed that, as the book progressed, Rutherfurd discontinued his in depth narrative and took a more didactic approach to some of my favorite eras of British and Irish history. He upped the bar in his coverage of the first 4 or 5 centuries; his focus tapered off during the last few chapters. Some compelling narratives never reached their full potential because he chose to skim the surface rather than delve down as he did in previous chapters.

2) Many female characters represented the more unflattering gender stereotypes
I grit my teeth at the portrayal of female characters in many novels. Not all women are waspish, or insanely jealous, or ruled by their emotions, or easily duped. Not all women are disarmly sweet, or naive to the point of childishness. Although several of my favorite characters were female, I was disappointed by the overall portrayal of women in the novel. While there may be a historical reason for Rutherfurd’s portrayal of female characters in The Princes of Ireland, at some point that justification becomes an excuse for laziness. Anyone can write a stereotypical character; I would have loved if the female characters had more substance.

Overall, I highly recommend this novel. I will definately be reading the sequel, The Rebels of Ireland. I can’t wait to read Rutherfurd’s narrative of the Irish Revolution. And I would love if Rutherfurd did for Native Americans what he did for the original tribal peoples of Ireland.

The following is one of my favorite passages from the book…edited so as not to be a spoiler:

He never saw the blade. It moved so fast, he did not even feel it for a moment, in his battle fury. But it smashed through his breast and severed every tissue just above the heart, so that [he] frowned, first in puzzlement as he became aware that something had stopped. Then he felt a huge, red, aching pain, and found that he was choking, that his gorge and his mouth were full of blood, and that everything was running away from him like a river as he crashed into the shallow water. He felt himself being turned and he saw [his rival’s] face looking down at him, infinitely sorrowful.

I read that passage on the plane home from Denver. It was the third time in less than 50 pages where I cried my eyeballs out. As I’ve said before, I love when authors murder their characters. And I highly recommend this book.

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2 responses to “The Princes of Ireland: An Update

  1. Congrats on finishing the tome! I hear you on the female character stereotypes – at the moment, I am particularly miffed by the sweet/naive sort. Bleh. But you have intrigued me with the descriptions of epic-ness. It makes me think of the reasons why I love TV miniseries. When you said the bit about being sad when characters fade away from passage of time, it reminded me of Into the West, when the main couple gets older and their storyline is sidelined by that of assorted relatives and progeny.

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