20 January 2017

A Discovering Diamonds Review of: LORD OF IRELAND by E.M. Powell

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Adventure / Series
12th Century
Ireland
Fifth Knight Series

The Fifth Knight Series. Norman Ireland is rarely the setting of a novel, so it was very refreshing to pick up a book firmly placed on the Emerald Isle and further enhanced by the sympathetic protagonist, Benedict Palmer, and his wife, Theodosia. These characters have a rich backstory as presented in previous books of the series, and it is probably of benefit to read them first to fully understand their motivations and reactions.

In 1185, Henry II sent his son, John, to Ireland to pacify the natives – and ensure a certain Hugh de Lacy wasn’t growing too big for his boots. The young prince was accompanied by Gerald of Wales, and these three real-life characters form the base round which EM Powell’s well-constructed novel pivots. John is as disagreeable and inept as one would expect – gifted with cunning rather than intellect – Gerald of Wales is a delightful waste of space, more interested in his creature comforts and proving his prejudices versus the savage Irish, and Hugh de Lacy is enigmatic and silently powerful.

Sir Benedict has been ordered by King Henry to accompany John, and while Benedict is less than delighted by all this, he has no choice but to comply. He leaves with a heavy heart but can comfort himself with the knowledge that Theodosia remains safely at home. Ha. By now, Benedict should know his wife better. Where he worries about her, she worries about him, which is why she disguises herself as a nun and somehow makes it across to Ireland where she ends up as Gerald of Wales’ private secretary & nursemaid rolled into one.

Benedict is shocked when he recognises the nun tending to Gerald’s needs. He is just as shocked by John’s behaviour, and as to Hugh, Sir Benedict is not entirely sure the man can be trusted. Soon enough, Benedict finds himself in quite the tight corner: his beloved wife’s well-being is threatened, and Palmer must take to desperate means to save Theodosia from an aggravated John and his determination to proclaim himself King, not Lord, of Ireland.

The historical and geographical setting is beautifully presented, the protagonists are well-developed and as the story proceeds, it becomes increasingly difficult to put the book down. All in all, a great read – maybe with the one single objection: Prince John is so bad, so depraved, he hovers close to becoming a caricature. Surely the man had at least one redeeming feature? One moment of decency?
Or maybe he didn’t.

©Anna Belfrage 

4 comments:

  1. Gerald's own description of John's behaviour - and that of his cronies - suggests he behaved like a juvenile delinquent. "the Irish of the better class ... having been hitherto loyal to the English ... receive him with the kiss of peace. But our new-comers and Normans not only treated them with contempt and derision, but even rudely pulled them by their beards. ... They said that they found him to be a mere boy, surrounded by others almost as young as himself; and that the young prince abandoned himself to juvenile pursuits."

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    Replies
    1. Indeed, Frank and thank you for commenting. I read Gerald's 'The Conquest of Ireland' and used much of it as the basis for my novel, as well as his 'Topography of Ireland'. Yes, it's widely accepted that Gerald probably often wasn't the most reliable of narrators but he is a very juicy resource for a novelist!

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    2. Juicy indeed! Have you also studied "The Song of the Earl"? Believed by some to be Maurice O’Regan’s version of events and, therefore, presenting a more Ireland centred view.

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    3. Yes, I read it as background and lead-in to the 1185 expedition. In translation, of course!

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