- Author: Jennifer Deibel
- Publisher: Revell (Baker Book House)
- Published Feb. 1st
- Synopsis: 1920s Ireland — Stephen Jennings, a local jeweler, reluctantly apprentices Lady Annabeth DeLacey, whose English nobility puts her at odds with her fellow community members.
I received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher. Opinions expressed are my own.
No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends.John 15:13
The novel explores the meaning of love, in conjunction with friendship and loyalty. Stephen goes from being very cynical about romance to embracing the biblical definition of love (John 15:13). There’s some light discussion on inherent human value.
There’s also some valuable, if light, discussion of the harm wrought when people use the term “Christian” to justify wicked actions.
What I Liked
I really appreciated Anna’s relationship with her sister, Emmaline. Their relationship was truly beautiful, and Emmaline is such a dear, loving character!
I appreciated Deibel’s discussion of England’s treatment of Ireland, particularly when describing the soupers— so-called “missionaries” who would only help people who chose to convert. My mind flashes to the parallel with the “missionaries” who came to the land where I live, and where my Indigenous ancestors lived before me. While the treatment in my homeland was far, far worse, I do appreciate that Deibel addresses the sin of manipulating people with religion. And that attitude of conquest in evangelism persists, to this day, as do its fruits.
Along a similar line, I liked that Deibel addresses the “savior” mentality. Although both English and Irish people are white, I am again drawn to the parallel between the events in Europe and the events on my continent. We use the word “white savior” to describe someone who attempts to change or “save” people of color. In The Lady of Galway Manor, Anna learns humility as she realizes that the Irish do not need to learn the ways of the English.
In terms of historical setting, Deibel paints a realistic portrait of Ireland, with descriptions of the countryside and plenty of dialect. Moreover, she provides textual cues about the meaning and pronunciation of words. For instance, oftentimes, a word uttered by one character is then reiterated in English by another. Similarly, we get pronunciation cues based on the foreigner (Anna’s) mispronunciation– and subsequent clarification– of words. Additionally, the book is equipped with a Glossary of Terms that includes pronunciation and meanings. (Unaware of this resource, I did not avail myself of it while reading. Even so, I don’t feel that I missed any important meaning).
Overall, I would describe the novel as “shallow.” While the author raises some worthwhile points, throughout (such as the issue of prejudice and entitlement), I feel that these points would have benefited from much more exploration, particularly because this is an adult novel.
For example, Anna undergoes some character development as she begins to learn more about the Irish perspective in their fight for independence. She also realizes that the people don’t need saving. But the resolution to this feels really simplistic. She goes out and she prays (which I think is wonderful!), but then just resolves that henceforth she will love each person as an individual. Good, but not really a nuanced response to a nuanced issue. I would have actually preferred to see this unresolved, perhaps with movement in the right direction, but not wrapped up so easily. As it is, I feel that the easy resolution undermines the importance of the points raised (particularly in their applications beyond the scope of the story).
The way the book handles parental relationships feels very odd to me. At the beginning of the story, Stephen is prepared to leave his elderly father, even though his dad won’t be able to run the shop without him. As the novel progresses, Stephen is working up the courage to tell (not ask) his dad about this decision.
In contrast, Anna, for the sake of class, is expected to make a HUGE sacrifice for her family/parents.
What is odd to me is that Anna’s sacrifice is described as somthing her faith leads her to do– which works for me, with the John 15:13 emphasis–but no one has a problem with Stephen leaving his dad who obviously needs him. Given the lack of comparative commentary on the subject, I didn’t get the feeling that the author was trying to make a social commentary on gendered expectations. It felt more like “that’s just the way it goes.”
In terms of romantic content, this book is pretty “clean,” by typical standards. I believe there were two kissing scenes, which weren’t overly descriptive. There was also some brief recounting of the kissing scene to other characters, but it was done in a sweet and innocent way.
With that said, the romance in the book seemed very reliant on physicality– not in the sense that there was a lot of physical description, but in the sense that this seemed to be the basis of the relationship, for both Anna and Stephen. Early on, both Anna’s and Stephen’s narrations allude to finding the other person attractive.
Anna wishes to earn Stephen’s favor, as it is apparent that he dislikes her from the start. Stephen is determined to maintain his aversion towards Anna, despite his instant attraction to her. While the two do spend some time together, I feel that the reason for their love really isn’t developed. The two attend a music performance together and, when urged to dance together, do so.
After this evening, the characters are pretty much in love. Yes, Stephen continues to fight it, and yes, there are obstacles, but I really feel that the relationship wasn’t well-developed. And while I recognize that the physical exprince of dancing with someone can certainly result in feelings of attachment for that person, I don’t see that as the basis for abiding, committed love.
With that said, Stephen does undergo clear character development and, by the end of the story, definitely demonstrates a much deeper understanding of the true meaning of love.
Some of the romantic moments of the story happen when the main character is somewhat engaged to another man. To be fair, she does NOT want to be engaged to him, and one can easily argue that she wasn’t really engaged to the other guy. Nonetheless, I felt a bit iffy on this and, due to the nature of my blog, thought it was worth a mention.
There are some uses of terms like “Gee” and “Goodness.”
If I’m being completely honest, this is a book I have some trouble recommending. Usually, when I don’t recommend a book, it’s because of some glaring issue(s) I have with content. In this case, it’s not so much that I have a problem with content. It’s just that the book feels too insubstantial to me. There were some good points brought up, but I felt that they lacked the development necessary for them to really resonate powerfully.
With that said, if you’re looking for a light, clean, historical read and you specifically want an Irish setting, this book may be a fun choice for you.