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The beautiful, spirited Irish patriot who made a bad marriage (her first husband almost murdered her) for the sake of her family returns (Gracelin O’Malley, 2001) and now heads to New York, where life’s tough, the action nonstop, and Gracelin extraordinarily resilient.

The story is so packed with action, subplots, and characters that the narrative is often overwhelmed by the excess and Gracelin herself seems increasingly a stereotypical strong woman (she wields her knife like an avenging gangster) than a more convincing creation. It’s the late 1840s, the famine continues, the British are nasty, the Irish rebels angry—and Gracelin has to leave Ireland because she killed a British guard. Morgan Monagh, the great patriot and love of her life whom she’s recently married, has died in prison, and, leaving their baby son behind, Gracelin embarks with her young daughter to join her brother, Sean, in New York. The voyage is a nightmare and many die, but Gracelin survives with the help of the American Captain Reinders, impressed with her courage and beauty. She also makes enemies, though: Boardman, the steward, who hates the Irish; and Draper the doctor, who resents her insisting he take care of the sick. Both, learning about Gracelin’s past, are determined to punish her once in New York, so while she moves into the pub, where Sean lives, and meets his political friends, as well as his Mormon contacts, she is stalked by Boardman. She also befriends Lily, a runaway slave who knows Reinders, who has promised to find the children she left behind. As the action intensifies, Gracelin must use her trusty knife to defend herself, survive a fire, and decide what to do next with her life. Perhaps go west with Sean—or with the smitten Captain Reinders?

More plot-churner than a nuanced and involving story.

Pub Date: Nov. 5th, 2002
ISBN: 0-451-20707-6
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: NAL/Berkley
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2002


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