The majority of the books I read are set in the UK and the USA or written by authors from those countries. I’ve been trying to change that over the past few years; I still love books set in the UK and the USA by British and American authors, especially now that diversity is being celebrated more and more, but there are more countries I want to experience.
Italy is one of my favourite countries, so I’m drawn to books set there or in worlds inspired by Italy, such as the world in Robert Jackson Bennett’s Foundryside, and I’ve been seeking out more books inspired by Africa and Asia. Australia is another country that’s severely neglected in my reading, but there’s another country, much closer to home, that I very rarely read about: Ireland.
I don’t neglect Ireland by choice at all, I simply don’t seem to gravitate towards books that end up being set there, and I’ve also noticed that books set in Ireland by Irish authors often fail to get the same buzz in the UK as they do in Ireland, which can be really frustrating. I used to work in Welsh publishing and encountered the same issue there, where it was really difficult to get national media to pick up on books set in Wales.
As you all know I love my historical fiction, so today I’m sharing three historical fiction novels set in Ireland – two by Irish authors – that I’d like to read!
by Niamh Boyce
A woman seeks refuge for herself and her daughter in the household of a childhood friend.
The friend, Alice Kytler, gives her former companion a new name, Petronelle, a job as a servant, and warns her to hide their old connection.
In the months that follow Petronelle learns that in the city pride, greed and envy are as dangerous as the wolves that prowl the savage countryside. And she realizes that Alice’s household is no place of safety.
Once again, Petronelle decides to flee with her daughter. But this time she confronts forces greater than she could ever have imagined and she finds herself fighting for more than her freedom…
This is the prime example of a book that I sorely wish I’d seen publicised somewhere in the UK, because it’s right up my street. Historical fiction featuring witch trials? Yes, hello, I’m here to read the hell out of you. I also think that cover is gorgeous. Luckily I just happened to stumble across an interview with the author in the Irish Times, and I’m going to grab a copy of this book asap.
My Lady Judge
by Cora Harrison
In the sixteenth century, as it is now, the Burren, on the western seaboard of Ireland, was a land of gray stone forts, fields of rich green grass, and swirling mountain terraces. It was also home to an independent kingdom that lived peacefully by the ancient Brehon laws of their forebears.
On the first eve of May, 1509, hundreds of people from the Burren climbed the gouged-out limestone terraces of Mullaghmore Mountain to celebrate the great May Day festival, lighting a bonfire and singing and dancing through the night, then returning through the gray dawn to the safety of their homes. But one man did not come back down the steeply spiralling path. His body lay exposed to the ravens and wolves on the bare, lonely mountain for two nights . . . and no one spoke of him, or told what they had seen.
And when Mara, a woman appointed by King Turlough Don O’Brien to be judge and lawgiver to the stony kingdom, came to investigate, she was met with a wall of silence . . .
I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to Cora Harrison, who’s a rather prolific historical fiction writer, and it’s through her that I learned about Brehon law. My knowledge of Irish history is incredibly poor, so I had no idea that Brehon law was used in the Gaelic parts of Ireland until the 17th century, that it’s the oldest surviving law system in Europe and that it involved no harsh sentences, such as death or flogging, and it was possible for women to be lawyers. Naturally, a historical mystery series featuring a lawyer who is also a woman is something I want to read, especially when the historical crime genre is something of a sausage fest.
The Good People
by Hannah Kent
County Kerry, Ireland, 1825.
Nóra Leahy has lost her daughter and her husband in the same year, and is now burdened with the care of her four-year-old grandson, Micheál. The boy cannot walk, or speak, and Nora, mistrustful of the tongues of gossips, has kept the child hidden from those who might see in his deformity evidence of otherworldly interference.
Unable to care for the child alone, Nóra hires a fourteen-year-old servant girl, Mary, who soon hears the whispers in the valley about the blasted creature causing grief to fall upon the widow’s house.
Alone, hedged in by rumour, Mary and her mistress seek out the only person in the valley who might be able to help Micheál. For although her neighbours are wary of her, it is said that old Nance Roche has the knowledge. That she consorts with Them, the Good People. And that only she can return those whom they have taken…
Considering how much I loved Kent’s debut, Burial Rites, this is definitely one I should have got to by now; I’ve even owned a copy since its release, but I’ve never quite been in the mood to pick it up. Hopefully 2019 will finally be the year I cross it off my TBR although, much like Burial Rites, I’m pretty sure this book is going to break my heart.