Our Fruitless Quest for Grace O'Malley

For the past few years, A Reader's Respite has been on what is turning out to be a fruitless quest for a good historical fiction novel about Grace O'Malley.

Who is this Grace O'Malley we speak of?

Why, the infamous Irish pirate, of course.  Her real name was Grainne Ni Mhaille which has (thankfully) been Anglicized to Grace O'Malley.  Born sometime around 1530, Grace was the daughter of a successful and wealthy Irish sea merchant who inherited her father's fleet of ships and promptly took to the seas becoming quite famous for her seamanship and pirating along Ireland's west coast.  She harassed English and Irish alike and eventually history even records a meeting between Grace and England's Elizabeth I where both women made promises to each other that they would eventually break.

Fertile ground for a historical novel, wouldn't you say?

Our quest for some good historical fiction began back in 2008 when we found a copy of Alan Gold's novel, The Pirate Queen.  Ugh.  You can read the review on that disaster, but be sure to put on your flame-retardant undies first....it's a scorcher.  Bad dialog, inconsistencies and questionable characters abounded in that scary book and it was enough to put us off the trail of Grace O'Malley for a good two years.

But in the spirit of never-say-die, A Reader's Respite recently gathered our courage and purchased a copy of Robin Maxwell's novel about Grace, this one entitled The Wild Irish.  We thought the premise was promising:  Maxwell chose to focus on the meeting that took place between Elizabeth I and Grace, allowing Grace to tell her own story.

Despite our misgivings about Grace's story being told in first person narrative, we were game to give it a try.  Things were going quite well until we reached page thirty five, where Elizabeth is given the following line:

"The earls of Leicester and Warwick were my beloved Fric and Frac."


What the heck are two ice skaters from the 1930's doing in Queen Elizabeth I's dialog?

That's right, Fric and Frac were a Swedish ice skating comic team that gained enormous popularity when they came to the U.S. in the 1930s.  We're not kidding.

So due to this unfortunate gaffe on page thirty five the remainder of this novel pretty much fell flat for us.  We just couldn't let go of that Fric and Frac thing.  Grace telling her life story to Elizabeth takes up the first half of the novel, while the second half focuses more on the Earl of Essex and his fall from Liz's grace during his unfortunate stay in Ireland.  Because Grace can't tell Essex's story, the POV abruptly changes to third person, where it remains until the author invents a second meeting, many years later, between Liz and Grace (history records no such meeting, by the by), whereupon the narrative swings back to first person again.

We got a tad dizzy from it all, truth to be told.

But A Reader's Respite will not let this latest disaster deter us in our quest.  We're going to find a good book about Grace O'Malley if it kills us.  And at the rate we're going, it just might.

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