Author: Elizabeth J. Sparrow

Publisher: The Waxing Gibbous Press

ISBN: 978-0-9976851-1-4

I decided to review this novel because the blurb implied it was historical fiction. I quote from the back cover: “Tempestuous Love. Ancestral Woes. Political Turmoil. Ireland, 1911: After seven centuries of unyielding oppression, there is a tempest rising, a national yearning for Irish independence. It threatens to sweep away all that is precious to the very privileged O’Rourke and De la Roche families. Seismic changes are but a whisper away.” (Those seven centuries are really about British oppression; invaders all the way back to the Vikings made Irish folks’ lives a living hell.) However, it’s really a romance with a historical setting—guess I should have paid attention to the first two words? That increased the height of the hurdle the author made me jump over, but I ended up liking the book a lot anyway. She has a pleasant storytelling style, so readers of romance novels will have a good time here.

The romance doesn’t become too sappy either. In fact, it is a variation on Taming of the Shrew because the female protagonist, Lacey de la Roche, is a wild, headstrong woman, even as a small girl where she’s a bit of a tomboy; and the male protagonist, Courtland O’Rourke, is an Irish rake (I find that word more fitting than wastrel) who ends up charming the shrew.

Both protagonists are members of an Irish aristocratic class who tolerated the English occupation and did well in spite of it. They both grow up in the tumultuous years leading to Irish independence. Part of the Irish tempest of the title is how the independence struggle threatened their two families. The other Irish tempest, of course, is Lacey herself. She is certainly not the prim and proper rich girl one might envision, although she has a love for race horses and one in particular. (One wild scene that exhibits her stubborn and spoiled nature is associated with a horse race, in fact.)

Court, as he’s called, is sent to India to be a part of a British military contingent where he cuckolds another officer, earning deserved hatred that causes Court trouble in later life. He’s then sent to fight in World War I, which goes on during this period of Irish history, where he almost dies in the trenches. That’s a recurring theme in the novel—war is hell, whether in occupation, European conflagration, or insurrection. And back then it was more up close and personal.

From this brief description, the reader can conclude that the author’s characters are complex. Lacey is more ornery and spoiled than bad, while Court is more flawed and pseudo-sociopathic—he puts himself first a lot—but he’s torn between two different worlds. Their marriage doesn’t change them much either. Other characters are finely drawn too—old Devlin, Court’s grandfather, is Anthony de la Roche’s business partner, who is also Lacey’s father; the servants aren’t two-dimensional characters either and form an important part of the extended aristocratic families; and the Irishmen involved in the independence movement, some patriots and others scoundrels, make up a cast of characters fitting for a saga. Set mostly in the lush green of some of my favorite Irish countryside not far from Cork, the author weaves an interesting history of the De la Roche and O’Rourke families.

The author’s pleasant style aside, I found the narrative a wee bit jumpy. Many flashbacks seemed to pop up out of nowhere when she discovered she needed to add something she forgot (the unusual use of italics for those exploding bubbles were definitely needed). This makes the narrative seem unfocused at times, like a hodgepodge collection of captions for an internet-made photo album about the two families. The story is full of coincidences too—for example, Lacey’s uncomfortable encounter with Bridget in New York, the woman Court impregnated and then had deported. (Lacey, as both girl and woman, ignores most of that rake’s sins.)

The author’s pleasant style can also become confusing when she employs Irish turns-of-phrase in her dialogue that generally does a good job of catching the flavor of Irish discourse. However, not every reader will understand works like lough, for example, and they might miss the fine irony and sarcasm contained in words even among friends and relatives, an Irish tradition exported to the U.S. and elsewhere if my family is any indication.

None of these are important issues and might only indicate a need for more editing. They didn’t stop me from enjoying the story, and I don’t usually read romances. Other issues remain, though, that are more important.

As I stated, I decided to review this book because the blurb implied it was historical fiction (see above). Because it’s really a romance with a historical setting, namely the years surrounding Irish independence, my enjoyment of the book was diminished. I expected a lot more about the Irish Rising, Bloody Sunday, and so forth. In fact, I must say that the novel not only needs less romance and more history, but it trivializes that struggle for independence by making its effects on wealthy Irish the central theme rather than the effects on the Irish poor—the wealthy weren’t desperate; the poor were. It also doesn’t emphasize enough the oppressive nature of the Crown’s domination, occupation, and exploitation of the Emerald Isle, a tale that hasn’t been properly told even in history books. In brief, all this makes the title “Tempest in a Tea Cup” a better one as the revolution becomes gentrified for the romance between two Irish aristocrats.

That said, it’s not the worst part. While not a cliffhanger at the end per se, this is not the complete story about Lacey and Court, only the beginning (the author is working on a sequel, but that doesn’t matter). We’re really talking about the history of the De la Roche and O’Rourke families here. Like Michener’s Hawaii, this type of saga leads to a longer than usual novel. That’s no excuse for delaying the finish of the saga to a second tome, which would be like Michener cutting his famous book in half. Some stories are just longer than others—other examples are Eco’s Name of the Rose and Rowling’s last Harry Potter novel. This choice is probably the publisher’s fault and hopefully not the fault of Ms. Sparrow, but leaving the reader hanging isn’t recommended, no matter who made that decision. I’ll admit this choice, common in today’s publishing, is a pet peeve of mine; other readers might not care and read this book with gusto as well as look for the sequel after finishing.

The Irish Tempest, unlike the Taming of the Shrew, is a tragedy that will stir up mixed emotions in the reader. Only in that sense is it historical fiction. The emotions cover a wide spectrum: sadness at the loss of life, anger at the British and their Irish collaborators, and curiosity about the future of the star-crossed and aristocratic lovers as they flee a country in turmoil. Unlike Tonio, we cannot say, “La commedia è finita.”