3 out of 4 stars
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Sean O’Neill, also known as Ferret, is heir to the royal throne of Ireland. That lineage no longer matters in 1697, however, when the young boy’s father is killed by English soldiers. His death means the end of the Irish rebellion against the invasion and “colonization” of Ireland by the English. Ireland’s localized, clan-based political system is no more, and the Irish are no longer free to practice their Catholic faith. Ferret’s father is killed right before his eyes. In revenge, he slashes the face of the English army’s General Winston Cromwell with his dagger before escaping.
Now newly orphaned and a fugitive of the law, Ferret finds himself in the company of a highwayman named Strongbow and a small child he comes to think of as his little sister. They wander the countryside, evading the law and dreaming of the freedom Ireland once had. As Ferret grows, so does his quest to be free of the exploitative rule of Cromwell and the English. At the same time, his almost instinctive need to lead also grows, perhaps driven by his royal bloodline. Ferret begins to question what it means to rule. Is it possible to lead one’s people without becoming a tyrant, or is the lure of ultimate power inevitable?
Ferret: The Reluctant King by L.K. Samuels is a historical fiction novel that follows Ferret from his youth into his old age. It covers the time period of England’s conquest of Ireland, as well as the early colonization of the New World. The book is told in third-person narration, mostly from Ferret’s point of view, but occasionally shifting to that of his arch-nemesis, General Cromwell. As the book covers about 50 years, there are a lot of characters, and it can sometimes be difficult to remember who everyone is. However, the major characters are well-developed. It is easy to see each one’s beliefs and motivations in a way that makes it possible to understand his actions, even the reprehensible ones. Ferret struggles with many moral dilemmas, including how to effectively lead while still allowing individual freedoms, and how far he can justify his actions in order to support a noble cause.
I loved the way this book was written. The descriptions set the scene brilliantly, from the beautiful but desolate backcountry of Ireland, to the bustling city of Cork, to the unspoiled wilderness of the early American settlement. I could see how the characters looked and the way they were dressed. The disparity of wealth between those who did business with the English and the common people was obvious in the way they were described. The author also did a fantastic job of explaining the ongoing struggle between the English and Irish, the frustrations on both sides, and the historical and cultural reasons why it was so difficult for the English to bend the Irish to their will.
My only complaint about this novel was that the pacing was sometimes off. The book was over 400 pages long and covered a lot of history, but there was not a lot of action. There were some parts that were very exciting, but at other times, I felt like the story was dragging. Some points of Ferret’s life were described in minute detail while others felt rushed.
All in all, I enjoyed this book. I rate it 3 out of 4 stars, with only the pacing issues holding it back from a full score. I noticed a handful of minor errors, but they did not detract from the reading experience. I would recommend this book to those who enjoy historical fiction stories and thought-provoking novels. Those who are looking for action-packed plots might not enjoy the book as much as I did.
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