Two female titans perfectly matched in guts, guile, and political genius.
Elizabeth, queen of England, has taken on the mighty Spanish Armada and, in a stunning sea battle, vanquished it. But her troubles are far from over. Just across the western channel, her colony Ireland is embroiled in seething rebellion, with the island's fierce, untamed clan chieftains and their "wild Irish" followers refusing to bow to their English oppressors.
Grace O'Malley notorious pirate, gunrunner, and "Mother of the Irish Rebellion" is at the heart of the conflict. For years, she has fought against the English stranglehold on her beloved country. At the height of the uprising Grace takes an outrageous risk, sailing up the Thames to London for a face-to-face showdown with her nemesis, the queen of England.
In this "enthralling historical fiction" (Publishers Weekly), Robin Maxwell masterfully brings to life these strong and pugnacious women in order to tell the little-known but crucial saga of Elizabeth's Irish war.
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About the Author
Robin Maxwell is the acclaimed author of The Wild Irish, The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn, The Queen's Bastard, and Virgin: Prelude to the Throne. She lives in Pioneertown, California.
Read an Excerpt
The Wild Irish
A Novel of Elizabeth I and the Pirate O'Malley
The sun was warm on her face and she wondered, Where were the mists? London was perpetually shrouded in fog, was gray and dreary. And it stank. Or so her father'd said. Owen O'Malley had sailed into London once and only once in his life, but for his two wide-eyed children, the art of his conjuring had forever after painted the city a dank and fetid hole. Yet today Grace O'Malley was blinded by sunlight. The bow of Murrough ne Doe's galley sliced the Thames like a seamstress's scissors through a length of glittering cloth -- a river of diamonds, it seemed.
Perhaps, thought Grace, Elizabeth would be wearing diamonds when they met. The Queen of England -- what would she look like? In her portraits the woman had a strange look about her. Cold. Brittle. Sharp beak nose. And the hard gaze of a man. No, 'twould not be diamonds, Grace corrected herself. 'Twould be pearls. The first Elizabeth, it was said, swathed herself in pearls, both black and white, some as tiny as a bead, some large as a goose's egg, the rare black ones her favorite.
A din rose from the clutter of docks and warehouses on the river's north shore. The long, narrow waterfront properties were abutted seamlessly together, ships large and small clamoring for their place at the jetties and water stairs. Brawny shoremen grunted oaths as they labored, loading and unloading vessels, hefting plain and exotic cargoes back to high, timbered warehouses. Carts full of wares rumbled away down cobbled streets behind. The loudest ruckus came from the wharf receiving a shipload of wetfish whose odors -- pungent and familiar -- filled her nose. Fishermen were the rowdiest sailors, she knew, more so than merchantmen. Pirates even. She glimpsed seamen hurrying to finish their chores. They'd be keen to be done, to leave the ships they'd crewed for weeks or months and swagger down the planks in boisterous bands for a night of brawling and whoring in the world's mightiest city.
Stretched out beyond the waterfront was the endless sprawl of London's squat and storied houses, hundreds of streets. Church spires by the dozens pierced the sky, more in one place, thought Grace, than she'd even seen in Spain. Deep in the city rose the tallest of all the steeples, surely the famous cathedral of St. Paul's. And up ahead was London Bridge, still too far in the distance to see the heads of traitors rotting on their pikes.
Commercial landings now gave way to fine residences, each as large as a small castle, broad lawns sweeping down to the river's edge. Those were the homes of the great lords, she knew, some of whom had been wreaking havoc in Ireland. The sight tightened a knot in her gut. She must stifle her hatred. Remember her purpose. But here she was, sixty-three years of age. Her maiden voyage into London Town and she was a passenger on a ship not her own. Sure her colors flew below those of Murrough ne Doe O'Flaherty, but it was humiliating all the same. Infuriating.
Well, she had come to remedy that. She would pay a wee call on the queen, at Greenwich, and see about the disturbances. Grace wondered if she was as tall and bony and yellow clackered as they said she was, if the alum and eggshell face paint she wore cracked grotesquely at the corners of her mouth and eyes. If she'd loathe the woman on sight, her enemy for more than thirty years.
She would know soon enough, thought Grace, gripping the rail with her strong, sun-browned fingers. Soon enough indeed.
The Irish galley brazenly flying her two rebel flags had, but a moment before, sailed beyond sight of the mullioned window at Essex House. Robert Devereaux, second earl of that name, that house, had come to gaze at the river with an eye to calming his frayed nerves. He'd found that the sight of ships and wherries and barges on the wide, moving ribbon of water slowed a racing heart, measured his ragged breaths, even occasionally lifted the dark veil that had, periodically, fallen since childhood like a shroud on his soul. Out there, the sun glinting off the Thames, life appeared simple, mundane, whilst behind him in his study was a roomful of Queen Elizabeth's courtiers -- friends, relatives, admirers (schemers one and all) -- and in their company was every complication of which a man could dream.
Twenty-four, and I am already a great lord of England, thought Essex. He'd recently astonished even himself, being granted a seat at the table of the Privy Council. He was Master of the Horse, a Knight of the Garter, and Elizabeth's undisputed favorite. Yet I am poor, he thought bitterly, the poorest earl in the kingdom. This, like his title, was a legacy from his father, Walter, first Earl of Essex. He bemoaned that fact every day of his life and cursed his father, altogether conscious of the sin, but cursed him nonetheless. At age seventeen, with Walter Devereaux dead and disgraced in Ireland, and his mother despised by the queen, Robert had to come to Court a penniless lad. Had he owned an ounce less of character and cunning, he often reminded himself, he'd have been swallowed alive by the beast that was Elizabeth's Court. Instead he had risen more quickly -- nay, shot like a star across the heavens -- than even his benefactor, the Earl of Leicester, had envisaged he might. Yet it had been tooth and claw all the way to this moment, Essex knew, and whilst the Privy Councilship was assured, his military exploits already the stuff of legend, and his popularity with courtiers, beautiful waiting ladies, and the public equally vaulted, much was nevertheless at stake. His very livelihood!The Wild Irish
A Novel of Elizabeth I and the Pirate O'Malley. Copyright © by Robin Maxwell. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As long as you don't take this as history, it's a good read. They fill in the historical gaps, and a large portion of the book is Grace's story. Very interesting, and the historical background is accurate, to the best of my knowledge.
Loved it beginning to end. If you are a history buff this one is a page turner
My husband and I read a lot of historical novels. We love this one. Both dialog and physical responses between Queen Elizabeth I and Grace O'Malley are terrific.
I have to admit that I just didn't like this book. None of the characters struck a chord with me or even seemed remotely sympathetic. I could admire Grace, but did not much care if she lived or died. I feel as though this was meant to be tragic - we are meant to lament Elizabeth's decision at the end - but I didn't care about Essex, either.As for the writing, that failed me as well. Maxwell uses a reminiscence style that I find irritating and which kills the present-day tale completely. Things don't just happen - we skip forward several years and then are told what happened by whatever character the focus is currently on. This may work in general, but it does not work here. It saps the story of action and makes reading it more like drudgery, as I was anxious to get back to the actual story of the novel.I also am extremely doubtful of Grace O'Malley's part in the relationship between Elizabeth and Essex, but as there are spoilers in my complaint and because I know little of the history, I will keep quiet and only say that I find some events described to be extremely unlikely, and even if I am reading fiction, I prefer the story to be plausible.I will be avoiding this author's work in future.
bookshelves: read recommended for:historical fiction enthusiastsI got several chapters into this book before realizing that I'd read it a few months ago. I'm not sure whether that says more about me or the book. Stories of Grace O'Malley (the Irish pirate) are few and far between, which is why I gravitated towards this one (twice!). Sadly, Maxwell's version of the epic meeting between O'Malley and Elizabeth I struggles with accuracy. Whether Elizabeth and Essex really "got it on", I suppose is up for debate, but Grace would not have thought of the Queen as "the first Elizabeth", as she had no idea that there would be another. (Sheesh! Didn't Maxwell read Encyclopedia Brown?) So, seek out this book if you want to hear a story about two fascinating women (one of whom has very little recorded history), but don't expect historical fact, airtight accuracy, or even terrific writing.
Just too drawn out.