When the novel opens in 1910, Kitty Deverill is only just nine years old. She is a smart and mischievous child much beloved by her grandmother, Lady Deverill. And like her grandmother, she has the gift of being able to see ghosts. The Deverills are Anglo-Irish and the story goes that when the O'Learys were removed from the land by the first Lord Deverill, the Deverill family was cursed by the witch Maggie O'Leary so that until an O'Leary inhabits the land once again, all Deverill heirs are doomed to stay in the castle as ghosts, lending a very slight paranormal feel to the novel. Kitty's mother dislikes her and her father is often indifferent to her existence, busy with his own desires. Much younger than her older sisters and older brother, her best friends are two local Irish Catholic children, Bridie, the daughter of the castle's cook, and Jack, the son of the local vet and an O'Leary. As the three friends grow up, much of their world changes, both because of the times and because of their stations in life.
Kitty and Jack find themselves falling in love despite their differences. Although she is Anglo-Irish, Kitty feels nothing for England, declaring herself nothing but Irish and when IRA grows stronger, she finds a way to assist the struggle for Home Rule, not just for Jack's sake but because she feels that Irish Independence is right and necessary. But the War for Independence is not the only war rending the world apart as Kitty grows to adulthood. So is WWI. Smaller hostilities and other happenings closer to Co. Cork also alter the course of the lives of the Deverill family and those connected to them. The novel definitely ends with more story to come as Kitty, Jack, Bridie, and Kitty's cousin Celia have all stepped into very different adult lives than they once envisioned. More twists and turns surely await.
The story line here is incredibly engaging and the weaving of the personal and the political is very well done. Most of the story follows Kitty and her decisions but Bridie's life is also fairly well represented; Jack's comes mainly through the other characters' observations and often only in relation to Kitty or Bridie rather than as his own story. The secondary characters are generally well rounded, some infuriating, some conniving, some hilarious, and some heartwarming but all distinct and human. Montefiore has done a beautiful job describing Ireland and its hold on the main characters and their hearts. Setting the novel when she has, has allowed her to encapsulate much of important twentieth century Irish history without taking away from the intimate feel of one family's ups and downs. The action is driven both by individual decisions and by the world beyond their doorstep. Using a framing device to keep the mystery of who has bought the ruins that were once Castle Deverill is well done and remains a surprise right up until the reveal. It will be interesting to see which direction the second novel takes given that revelation and the other major unresolved plot points left in the end. The second in the trilogy is already out in the UK if you have patience issues.
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Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins for sending me a copy of this book to review.