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Novel Takes
By Linda Ulleseit
July 3, 2020

Welcome to July First Friday and a new era in PLW blogging! We’ll still have our Writer Q&A on the third (and fifth) Friday, but we’ll also have Historical Fiction Book Reviews (First Friday), Historical Links (Second Friday), Q&As (Third & Fifth Fridays), and Guest Author interviews/blogs (Fourth Friday).

Grania: She King of the Irish Seas by Morgan Llywelyn

Reviewed by Linda Ulleseit for Paper Lantern Writers

This book has been out for a while, but it’s one I’ve enjoyed several times. My ancestors are Irish, and my husband and I are currently watching Black Sails on TV. That led me to dig out this copy of a novel about a female Irish pirate from one of my favorite authors.

The novel follows the story of real-life Irish chieftain Grania (Grace) O’Malley in the sixteenth century. Grace is a strong, fearless woman who becomes a leader and breadwinner. She sees herself as a match for England’s Queen Elizabeth, also a woman leading alone. Grania takes to piracy as her husband takes to war on land. She feeds and funds his people, and he conquers foreigners. This isn’t an ideal arrangement. When he dies, Grania takes over leadership of his people and expands her empire by conquering other leaders, Irish and English.

In a historical novel, setting is critical. This one does a good job making rolling green Irish landscapes and cold stone castles come alive. The sea is Grania’s first love, and a reader can feel the deck roll beneath her feet, and see approaching ships through the arrow slits at her stronghold. At this time in history, the Irish were being browbeaten into submission by the English. Protestants fought Catholics and only remnants of the Brehon law remain. Grania, however, fought for an Irish heritage and future for her people. She was well known for her independence, courage, and strength. I enjoyed how the novel set her in direct conflict with the English queen even though they didn’t meet until late in the novel.

Grania herself is a well drawn character with idiosyncrasies to balance her fearsome strength. She is hurt when her father, her hero, says Grania’s mother is the epitome of womanhood and Grania is not natural. Grania constantly compares herself to other women and doesn’t always come out ahead. She falls in love with a stranger who dies after just a short affair. This devastates her, and leaves her searching for a relationship. These softening traits make Grania more empathetic and believable. One of my favorite scenes is when Grania is at the helm of one of her ships and goes into labor with her fourth child. She gave birth at sea and was attacked by the English while still recovering. When her crew faltered, Grania went up on deck and rallied them to victory. 

Grania’s passion for Ireland sets her apart from other women, but it’s her difficulty in learning to love others and be strong that makes her an interesting character.

Further reading:

Elizabeth I by Margaret George; The eventual meeting between queen and Irish chieftain is mentioned in this novel from Elizabeth’s point of view.

The Wild Irish: A Novel of Elizabeth I and the Pirate O’Malley by Robin Maxwell

Grace O’Malley: The Biography of Ireland’s Pirate Queen 1530-1603 by Anne Chambers

Linda Ulleseit
Written by Linda Ulleseit

Linda Ulleseit writes award-winning heritage fiction set in the United States. She is a member of Historical Novel Society, Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and Women Writing the West as well as a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. Get in touch with her on Instagram (lulleseit) and Facebook (Linda Ulleseit or SHINE with Paper Lantern Writers).

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