The fates of two families mesh with Ireland’s struggle for independence in this debut novel.
Courtland “Court” O’Rourke and Lacey de la Roche grew up in neighboring estates in southern Ireland. Now 20-year-old Court has just returned from cavorting in London to find Lacey, 10 years his junior, beating up a neighborhood bully and as furiously rambunctious as he left her. Court serves as an adoring yet protective older brother figure to Lacey, who’s being spoiled rotten by her wealthy widower father. But barely a year after his return, a scandal forces Court to enlist in the British army. He navigates military intrigue in India, falling into a tormented affair with the wife of his rival, while Lacey’s love of horses brings her into contact with the rakish stable worker Ransom “Ran” Longo. As Lacey matures into a headstrong and becoming young woman, Ran and a returned Court become rivals for her affections. Yet war looms—the two men become involved in an incident of death and betrayal during the 1916 Easter Rising, and Court struggles to recover after witnessing the frontline horrors of World War I. Ran, though he has a sexually charged relationship with Lacey, is never in a serious competition with Court. Court eventually ties the knot with Lacey and then struggles to balance his love of wife and family with his commitment to the dangerous project of Irish rebellion. Using several historical events and a large, socially diverse cast means that Sparrow must keep multiple plates spinning, and some plotlines and characters subsequently feel underdeveloped. Yet the author also finds emotional resonance, particularly when her players intersect with history—for example, when Lacey and Court argue over whether Irish freedom is worth dying for. The dialogue suffers from an overuse of exclamation points but is enjoyably saucy and sharp. Lacey is admirably self-possessed but would benefit from less reliance on the headstrong heroine “type” and more interior characterization. Some tone-deaf choices mar the sweet central romance, most notably when implying sexual tension between Court and an 11-year-old Lacey, and in portraying his brutal violence against his unstable mistress.
While the plot sometimes lacks focus, this historical romance delivers compelling moments.