Review

The Princes of Ireland: The Dublin Saga

by Edward Rutherfurd



During his lifetime, James Michener gained a reputation for writing
Big Novels, epic sagas that spanned hundreds or thousands of years,
and almost as many pages. Edward Rutherfurd now seems poised to
inherit Michener's reputation for quantity, if not entirely for
quality. In previous novels, Rutherfurd has fictionalized the
history of rural England, London and Russia. Now, in THE PRINCES OF
IRELAND, Rutherfurd turns his eye to the Emerald Isle, in a novel
that spans Irish history from 430 BC to the sixteenth
century.

Much like Michener, Rutherfurd's approach focuses on a particular
place over time. In this case, the place is Dublin --- known as
Dubh Linn or Dyflin in earlier times --- which grew from an
isolated estuary ruled by a lesser king to a powerful port city and
center of Irish culture. The epic scope of the novel means that it
actually reads like a series of shorter stories, each set in a
different time but united loosely by their family history (the book
includes a very helpful family tree) and by their ties to this
particular place.

These stories, centered often on forbidden love between rival
families or on vengeance between two families with a blood feud,
often take a back seat to the real drama, which is the development
of Irish geography, religion and culture over time. Not
surprisingly, character development is not the goal here; instead,
characters serve as types common to their time rather than as
flesh-and-blood individuals. There's the feisty pagan princess who
loses her heart to a doomed man, the monk who burns a torch for his
childhood sweetheart, the couple driven apart by the rift between
Protestants and Catholics. Instead of individual personalities,
these characters are primarily combinations of their family's
traits (one family are craftspeople, for example, another are
scholars).

In addition to being products of their own genetic inheritance and
of Irish history, these characters sometimes seem to have a
surprisingly encyclopedic knowledge of that history. Rutherfurd
interjects historical fact into his novel in various ways, and with
varying levels of success. Often he introduces a chapter or section
with historical evidence, particularly following a narrative gap of
dozens or hundreds of years; elsewhere, he merely interrupts the
action and introduces historical facts with phrases like
"Historians agree that . . ." Least convincingly, Rutherfurd
sometimes puts historical background in the words of the characters
themselves, occasionally straining the bounds of credibility. Would
an illiterate pagan blacksmith really consider at length the
historical debate about the construction of sacred burial mounds as
he surveyed the landscape? It seems unlikely.

Despite its flaws, THE PRINCES OF IRELAND will certainly find its
devotees among the countless readers who have a particular interest
in Irish history and culture. In addition, its sprawling narrative
will draw in fans of historical fiction, who will undoubtedly enjoy
the scope and ambition of the novel. For those who are daunted by
the heft of this 750-page saga, hold on to your seats --- THE
PRINCES OF IRELAND is just part one of a projected two-part Dublin
Saga that will narrate the history of Ireland up to the twentieth
century.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 19, 2011

The Princes of Ireland: The Dublin Saga
by Edward Rutherfurd

  • Publication Date: March 1, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 800 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345472357
  • ISBN-13: 9780345472359