The Daughters of Ireland
The Daughters of Ireland is Santa Montefiore’s second novel featuring the Deverill family. The story picks up pretty much exactly where book one, The Girl In the Castle, left off, so potential readers will definitely want to pick that up before starting on this one.
In 1925, members of the Deverill family are struggling to recoup the losses they suffered in World War I, as well as in Ireland’s fight for independence from the British. Celia Deverill, of the family’s London branch, has just purchased the ruins of Castle Deverill, the holding of her Irish cousins Kitty and Harry. The castle was burned to the ground a few years earlier, but Celia is determined to restore it to its former glory. Some of the best days of her childhood were spent on the castle grounds, and she wants her own children, as well as her cousins’ children, to have similar experiences.
Kitty is married to one man, but desperately in love with another. She and her husband are living not far from the castle, raising Kitty’s illegitimate half-brother. In some ways, Kitty is reasonably content, but she’s unable to get her childhood sweetheart, Jack O’Leary, out of her head. When she and Jack meet up after several years apart, Kitty will be forced to choose between the life she shares with her husband Robert and the life Jack can offer her far away in America.
Bridie Doyle, once Kitty’s lady’s maid and her father’s mistress, is now a wealthy New York socialite. Her life is a never-ending whirl of parties and suitors, but Bridie is haunted by the son she left behind in Ireland. True, he’s living the good life with Kitty and her family, but Bridie is convinced his proper place is with her. She travels back home in a rather misguided attempt to reclaim her child, only to be met with the realization that the people she holds most dear have gone about their lives without her. She’s forced to figure out where she really fits in, and the answers aren’t what she expected they’d be.
The Daughters of Ireland is a sweeping novel that put me in mind of the sort of family saga written in the 1970s and 1980s as we follow the characters over the course of several years, witnessing their joys and their sorrows. The author is very detail-oriented, which is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, her lush prose transported me to the Irish countryside, as well as to the bustling streets of 1920s era New York City. She knows how to paint pictures with her words, something I very much appreciate, especially when reading historical fiction, but there were times I could have done with a little less description of what seemed to be very minor details. It’s important to me to know what people are wearing, but it’s not so necessary to go on and on about it interminably. There were a few times I found myself tempted to skim past some of the longer passages focusing on either food or fashion.
The characters are expertly drawn. I didn’t like all of them, but then I didn’t expect to. Kitty, in particular was difficult for me to sympathise with. Jack is obviously her true love, but she is super careless with the feelings of other people, especially Robert and Bridie. She wants what she wants out of life, and, in some ways, she’s a little too quick to stomp on others to achieve her goals. I found myself growing exasperated by her simpering around after Jack, when it’s so obvious Robert would do just about anything to ensure her happiness.
I loved how quiet this novel was. Don’t get me wrong, quite a bit happens, but it’s not at all fast-paced or action-packed and is definitely driven by its characters rather than its plot. It’s the story of a family and the people who love them; it’s a glimpse into life in the Irish countryside, shortly after Ireland gained its independence. Above all, it’s a tribute to love in all its varied forms. Romantic love has its place here, but we spend quite a bit of time examining familial love and loyalties as well.
The author plans to write a third book featuring the Deverills, and I plan to snap it up as soon as it’s available. True, I had a few problems with this one, but, overall, I did enjoy the story. I think The Daughters of Ireland would be a good fit for fans of sweeping family sagas with multi-faceted characters set in an unforgettable place and time.