Ireland during one of her many times of trouble is the setting for this first novel by a Canadian writer known chiefly from her short fiction. Hero Michael Malone, second son of a Catholic cotter, grows up amid poverty and a large, loving family--people who've come to accept that the Anglo landlord, Morrery, will have his way no matter what (which he does With Michael's lovely sister, Mary). Michael distinguishes himself at a hedge school, falls in love with a fellow scholar, Etain--""the fiery one""--then joins the United Irish to battle the English, though his father warns that the Protestants and Catholics in Ireland will never come together in a common cause. When Etain tells Michael that Morrery's son has forced her to be his whore, he shoots the young lord, flees to France, takes part in a harebrained French invasion of Wales, then spends months recuperating from injuries at a Welsh farm owned by a religious fanatic. Later, back in France, he learns that he's the subject of lays celebrating ""the Scholar from the Vale""; but there's no returning to Erin for him. Instead, it's off to Baltimore with Etain, who shows up on the quay just as the ship sails. Gowdy's best achievement here is her imaginative submergence into 19th-century Irish peasant life, its tragedies and small satisfactions. But her characters remain ciphers, and her plot is dangerously uneven (with too much attention paid to the hero's uneventful stay in Wales). A green first novel, then, that doesn't leave one breathless for more.