It’s Ireland in 1846. When her family’s small farm is struck by the blight of the Great Potato Famine, 24-year-old Clare Hanley heads out along with her younger brother Seamus on a harrowing journey across the ocean to the Promised Land of America. Once arriving in New York, Clare is both overwhelmed and enraptured by this coming-of-age city of intrigue, romance, the arts, squalor, wealth, uneven freedoms and exploding opportunities. Here she discovers love, adventure, and a terrible secret which threatens to destroy her family and all she believes.
It's obvious that Michael is a talented author who writes from the heart in this saga that follows two members of the Hanley family as they leave their beloved homeland of Roscommon, Ireland due to dire economic conditions, and sail to what would surely be a land of opportunity that would save their family back home. Michael has a wonderful ability when it comes to creating complex characters that the reader cares about and conveying a sense of place through his elegant prose filled with vivid descriptions.
I have always loved all things Irish, especially their music, so I enjoyed Michael's description of the Irish people - the spirit that shone above their suffering and devastation. One particular scene on the boat stands out where, in spite of the indescribable conditions in steerage . . . "A man with a fiddle began to play tunes of Ireland, tunes of joy and the unshakable resolution of its people. They sang and some danced, lifting their skirts, locking arms, and spinning as the crew trimmed the sails and looked down from above."
Clare Hanley is a strong character who takes on burdensome responsibilities, yet she yearns for the inner contentment and peace that she always saw in her Grandma Ella. Clare's brother, Seamus, seems to easily find misfortune, often from his own doing. "My father always said I was worthless. I spent my life proving him right."
New York's Five Points area played such a huge part in this narrative that I felt it became a main character. Believing they would find in America a land of great wealth and opportunity, these Irish immigrants discovered themselves in an area that was quite the opposite, yet hope was never extinguished. One of Clare's friends, a prizefighter named John Barden, says: "I love the Five Points. The newspapers don't speak kindly of her. They see the beggars, the poor, the beaten, the homeless, the drunks, thieves, and whores. But I see a place full of good people, short on blessings, but full of hope and courage. I see a place groaning for its chance to prosper. Only to be kicked down when it tries to rise to its feet. Sounds like the Irish, don't it?"
I loved the way hope is shown through another character, Andrew, who works for his father's newspaper, the New York Daily. Passionate about wanting to do more than just write about poverty, Andrew pursues his dream of a ministry house that would feed, lodge, and teach skills to those in need . . . "A sanctuary from the cruelties of this life. No one would be turned away, and each would know their comfort would be provided by the grace of God."
Flight of the Earls is a historical novel filled with realism and emotion, a people of resilience and hope, and superb storytelling. I highly recommend this novel to all readers.
The second book in this series, In Golden Splendor, has recently been released. It continues the story of Seamus.
Michael K. Reynolds
In Michael's words, taken from an interview on Christianbook.com...
Please share your inspiration for your Heirs of Ireland series:
I have grandparents on both sides of the family and many great aunts and uncles who emigrated from Ireland. On the couple of occasions I was blessed to visit the Emerald Isle; I was embraced by my Irish relatives as if I had sprouted from their own soil. Having my characters engage with the rich tapestries of my heritage has been an intimate and rewarding experience.
What surprising discovery did you make about Irish immigrants while researching this era?
The Irish are a complicated people and it’s something of a miracle their glorious culture and spirit survived their tragic history. When they arrived in America in droves as a result of the Great Potato Famine, they were loathed and mocked for flooding the labor market and for living in slum-like conditions. Yet, the Irish in turn treated the immigrants of Africa with an equal level of derision and malice. Those who were being bullied became the bully. But beyond this significant historical blemish, the Irish forever imbued in America their unique sense of humor, deep faith and formidable work ethic.
What one standout characteristic did you give to each of Clare and Seamus?
Both of these characters were forced to rise above their upbringing and their tragic circumstances. Clare is lifted by her powerful inner drive to care for others. Seamus is burdened by his past and often drifts without purpose, but his tantalizing glow of potential is what draws us to him.
What is one of the spiritual themes that runs through Flight of the Earls and why did you choose that particular theme?
It is no accident that the Heirs of Ireland Series is a trilogy because each of the books is spiritually themed around a different person of the Trinity, although at a subtle and foundational level. Flight of the Earls, the first of these books, is centered around fatherhood. It explores the generational impact of our earthly fathers and our desperate need for connection with our Heavenly Father.
Barn at Roscommon, Ireland
To learn more about Michael and his books, visit his website at michaelkreynolds.com.
This book was provided by B&H Publishing through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.