A Band of Roses by Pat McDermott
Publisher: Red Rose Publishing
Genre: Alternative History Romance
Length: Full (667 pages)
Rating: 4 Books
Reviewed by Snapdragon
Irish kings still rule the Emerald Isle—and a princess is in trouble . . .
Ancient Irish traditions remain strong in a world where High King Brian Boru survived the Battle of Clontarf and established a dynasty that rules Ireland to this day. When greed for oil prompts England’s Regent to claim an Irish island in the North Atlantic, Irish Crown Princess Talty becomes a pawn in a murderous plot to seize the throne of England.
From Japan to California to an eleventh century Ireland preparing for the Battle of Clontarf, Talty must hide her true identity, though she can’t hide her ingrained training as a member of the Fianna: the warriors who guard the Kingdom of Ireland. She brings home a discovery worth more than any oil well, yet all she wants is to return to her family and Neil Boru, the adoptive cousin she secretly loves and cannot have—or so she thinks. Neil has a secret of his own, one that emerges as the Boru clan works with MI6 to thwart an invasion of Ireland and bring Talty home.
A Band of Roses kicks off matter-of-factly in the 21st century; it’s not exactly the century we know, however, but an alternate country, in a somewhat different world.
In the currently popular alternative history style, McDermott proposes that defeated Irish High King Brian Boru actually won his famed medieval battle, and founded a longstanding Irish Dynasty. Thus begins a long and complex tale, set in contemporary times, but undeniably effected by the past.
As the English make a grab at oil-rich properties of Ireland, The princess and heir, Talty accepts duty and steps up to the plate as wife to end the conflict. She, long trained in practical and even military schools, believes her marriage, unwanted though it is, will accomplish several things. It will heal the rift with the English (although if she knew Geoffrey of Britain better, she might have doubted,) it will relieve her of the burden of being ruler… but she’s wrong. She’s actually wrong about quite a lot of things, as she is quickly embroiled in the political ends of a number of powerful people. Talty is a super leading lady though, with a tough side, and a real sense of fairness. Her very occasional touch of humility makes her all the more human.
Friend and cousin Neil is the one person who sees her not as a pawn to intrigue, but as a person. Sadly, her own wishes – like his desires – are utterly disregarded. Romance, in the midst of the political turmoil – indeed one might say evil – is impossible. A simple opportunity for a life seem impossible for the young princess. She will travel the world, seeking safety, and seeking something more – something she has left behind.
In some ways, this is Talty’s journey story. She is shaped into almost a different person, by all the events. In other ways, this is a romance; the romance of a wild free Ireland, as much as Talty’s own. The parallels are unmistakable.
The dialogue is snappy and believable, and the writing style straightforward and practical. Events happen logically, and Talty’s perceptions tell the story clearly, without disregarding her view. There is a big cast of characters; perhaps unavoidable in a work of this sheer size. There is also some backstory, which McDermott shares piecemeal, so it never seems like you are reading reams of information. However, some of the explanations, truly required for the full sense of things, are a tad slow. The beauty of it is, it seems very possible to read this more than once, and find a few more nuggets of story that you had not paid much attention to, in the first go-around.
This book is an enormous venture into a time, and a time out of mind. It’s initial proposal turns history on its head, but then follows human psychology logically forward, to the different place the world would become, had Brian Boru only won.