Picture it: It's the mid-eighteenth century when the English are occupying Ireland and pretty much treating all the Irish like serfs. It's against the law to teach the Irish to read and write; Catholicism is outlawed and priests are hung; Catholics and Protestants are not allowed to marry. Attending a Catholic mass or giving an Irishman a gun will get you hung for treason, even if you are from a prominent family.
Brighid and her brothers are poor Irish who must survive on their own after their schoolteacher father is arrested (for teaching reading and writing) and sold as a slave in Barbados. Life is hard, but they are hard workers, determined to live honorably in spite of the tough conditions. Unfortunately, Brighid is uncommonly beautiful, and catches the eye of the local English earl, who takes her by force and gives her to his friend Jamie Blackwell, who is visiting from the Colonies, as a gift.
Now Jamie is no angel; it was he who started this chain of events by his obvious interest in the beautiful Irish girl. But when he is presented with her as a gift and expected to rape her--under the watchful eye of his cruel friend--he finds a way to fake it and rescue her from the earl, who he knows will certainly expect to have his turn at her when Jamie is gone.
However, while trying to escape the earl's home, Jamie is attacked by one of Brighid's brothers, who thinks James is abducting her. Since Brighid owes him for not taking her virginity, she persuades her brothers to find a hideaway where she contrives to save his life. By this time, the two are beginning to develop real feelings for each other, but refuse to acknowledge them, knowing there is no possible future. They cannot marry (either in Ireland or England) because of the religious bigotry of the time, nor can the devout Brighid be his mistress. In addition, the crazy earl is hopping mad and determined to take revenge on Brighid's family, as well as Jamie himself.
Another issue is that Jamie has come to England to request help in repelling the attacks on British colonists by the French and the Indians. It doesn't help that he has made a powerful enemy of his former friend; however, he cannot jusify allowing his friend to destroy Brighid's family.
The author states that she has restored 100 pages of her original manuscript that had to be cut from the printed version in 2004; and I am glad she did. The historical details gave this story an authenticity that one doesn't see very often. One minor complaint: toward the end a former love of Jamie's named Sarah was briefly mentioned, but other than the implication that she had turned down Jamie's marriage proposal and given him a distaste for marriage, nothing more was said. I'm assuming this was in the previous book in the series, which I will be reading next. Or perhaps this part was inadvertently left out?
But that is such a small issue that I can't even justify taking a star from the rating. I loved the honor and loyalty demonstrated by the characters, the touching devotion of the Irish for their country and their justified resentment for the way they were treated by the English. It is sad that I see some of this same bigotry today by Americans toward immigrants, ethnic groups, poor people, women, and homosexuals, just to mention a few. The fact that these attitudes exist do not surprise me so much as the willingness by people to express their prejudices in public. Has the human race learned NOTHING from the tragedies of the past?
This is an outstanding love story, but also something that will give you pause for reflection.