3 out of 4 stars
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When Starlings Fly as One, a historical novel by Nancy Blanton, narrates a segment of the Irish rebellion in 1641. Numerous Irish clans, usually engaged in petty skirmishes, had united against the invading English forces. They conquered seven mighty castles and raided the surrounding English villages. However, when Sir Arthur Freke declined to surrender the Rathbarry castle to the Irish, the latter kept it under siege for most of the year. Blanton’s novel centers on this siege, taking a closer look at the lives of the captives.
Blanton based her book on actual historical events and starred real-life characters. The novel was well-researched, with clear indications of the areas where she took the liberty to incorporate fictional accounts. I loved how she authentically portrayed the growing unrest among the Irish just before the breakout of the rebellion. Throughout the book, Blanton maintained an impartial viewpoint, detailing the cruelty and violence of both the Irish and the English soldiers without vilifying any side.
The novel spanned from January to October of 1641, providing the readers with a detailed account of the siege. As the days progressed, the once flourishing community gradually dwindled to a handful of captives. Stripped of its former glory and luxurious lifestyle, the Rathbarry Castle witnessed various misfortunes, backfiring plans, gruesome deaths, and a pitiful existence for the inhabitants. Yet, the castle remained resilient, steadfastly protecting its occupants. Gradually, Rathbarry became more than a stronghold; it became a refuge, a home.
The novel boasted a diverse cast of characters. A Dutch orphan named Merel de Vries was the main narrator. Being a brave girl, she risked her life to set free a group of Irish prisoners. Merel even dared to flee the besieged castle to seek outside help. Even when she gained freedom, she chose to stay at her beloved Rathbarry. Another realistic character was Tynan, Sir Arthur’s horse marshal. Born an Irish yet serving an English lord, he nevertheless managed to stay loyal to both sides. Merel and Tynan’s budding romance added to the novel’s charm. There were several negative characters, including a self-centered Lady Carey and a cruel, snobbish Lady Dorothy, the mistress of Rathbarry. In contrast, Sir Arthur’s just character earned my respect.
My reading experience was not entirely without complaints. The chapters focussing on the Irish side of the story failed to capture my interest. They seemed to be mere fillers while Rathbarry occupied the center stage. Even the character of Teige-an-Duna MacCarthy, the legendary Irish hero, felt flat. I would have liked more insights into his life and ideals.
I rate the novel 3 out of 4 stars, detracting one star for the issues. There were a handful of formatting errors, but nothing too distracting. I would heartily recommend this novel to anyone who appreciates historical fiction. Despite a few violent incidents, I believe this book would be suitable for both young adults and adults.
When Starlings Fly as One
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