Book Review: Liberty Boy, by David Gaughran

Though I most often read fantasy or science fiction, anyone who follows my blog (all three of you) knows that I also enjoy history, biographies, non-fiction, and historical fiction. “Liberty Boy” is the latter.

Written by David Gaughran, an Irishman who lives in Prague and has previously written about South American history, this book is the first volume in a planned series about Jimmy O’Flaherty, a young man caught up in the turbulent turn of the nineteenth century in Ireland. Jimmy lost his father in a rebellion against the English, and is now trying to take care of his ailing mother and make a living amidst the aftermath of the 1803 uprising. He’s content to stand as a casual witness to history, even though that “history” revolves around hanging revolutionaries in the main street on top of the spot where he sells his wares.

There’s not much he can do about it, of course, and he tries to find other options to keep himself and his mother fed, while hoping the hangings will end soon and his life can get back to normal. But then he meets Kitty Doyle, a young, pretty revolutionary, with an unknown agenda of her own, and his life begins to drift away from the safety of his neutrality and his plans to sail to America to join his cousin.

“Liberty Boy” is the opening to a larger story, and serves primarily to set the stage by introducing Jimmy and the circumstances that get him into book two. He’s a likable character, but largely passive for much of the book until his personal conflicts force him to act. He wouldn’t be the first or the last man to get in over his head over a pretty girl, and I’m interested in learning what happens to him as the series develops. The novel leaves him in a difficult situation and at a major turning-point. I’m certain he’ll come through–he’s the main character, after all–but the real question is who he’ll become in the process.

The novel is worth the read for the historical insight alone. His portrayal of Dublin in the early 1800’s is fascinating and reveals yet another significant gap in my knowledge of history. I’ve long known, of course, that the domination of Ireland by the English has been a long, nasty sore spot that remains to this day. But it’s not something I’ve taken the opportunity to explore until now. With the amount of detail that went into this book, I trust that Gaughran has given me an accurate glimpse into that corner of history.

The novel is not overly long–about 250 pages in ebook format–and an easy read, even with the Irish dialect and gaelic words sparingly employed throughout the book. There’s some violence, some language, some gore, and some sexuality, mostly by allusion. It’s an adult novel, though not one that pushes boundaries by any means. It’s probably no more troublesome than the musical “Paint Your Wagon.”

I do have to offer this disclosure, however. This review is the result of a solicitation by the author’s publicist. Having discovered my review of Bernard Cornwell’s “Sharpe’s Tiger” a while back, they offered me a free ebook if I’d be willing to review it. I informed them of my policy on book reviews (I only review books I can review positively, as I feel in most cases the dislike of a book is a matter of personal taste) and they were fine with that. So in spite of the circumstances, you can rest assured that this review appears here because I enjoyed the book. There’s a good chance I’ll give the planned sequel a read when it’s released (I’d tell you more, but the book title itself is a significant spoiler).

There’s a fair amount of “grit” in this novel; Gaughran doesn’t soft-pedal how things were, but it doesn’t rise to the level of the aforementioned “Sharpe’s Tiger”, which was fine with me. Through Jimmy we’re given a fair cross-section of life among Dublin’s lower classes, and while it’s not an easy life, and its easy to see why so many would want to leave for America, it’s also understandable that so many stayed, as well. And it’s completely understandable that Jimmy is mostly a passive character through this part of his story–it seemed the best way to get by during that time was to keep one’s head down and nose clean, though even that was no protection at times. But on the whole, I enjoyed this view of Dublin of 1803 through Jimmy’s eyes. He’s a good guide.

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