The Angel’s Lamp, a new novel by Ashby Jones, is set in Ireland at the time of the Easter Rising and the tumultuous times that followed as the Irish people struggled for freedom.
Since we are marking the centenary of the 1916 Rising this year, I was delighted when Top Hat Books asked me to review this new publication.
And good news, the publisher has provided a copy of The Angel’s Lamp for one lucky reader to win. But before I share the details on how to enter, let’s explore this book together.
A Tale Of War-Torn Ireland:
The Angel’s Lamp tells the story of Johnny Flynn, an Irish-born, Bermingham-raised staff-sergeant in the 1916 British Army. Johnny is posted to Kilmainham Jail where he is in charge of the rebellion’s soon-to-be executed leaders. Johnny assists Pearse as he prepares to face the firing squad.
Transferred to Dublin Castle to stand guard over the ailing James Connolly, Johnny meets Nora, the Rebellion leader’s daughter. Struck by her determination to take the fight to the British, Johnny faces a devastating decision when he is summoned to serve on the firing squad that executes Connolly.
Guilt ridden after the execution, Johnny sees himself as a traitor to his Irish heritage, and reaches the dangerous decision to desert the British Army. Teaming up with the ragtag Irish rebels, he inevitably crosses paths with Nora.
Their story of emotional conflict set against the bleak backdrop of guerilla warfare, culminates in an impassioned, intense encounter between Johnny and Nora.
If love can survive, together they must face the unrelenting demands of understanding and forgiveness.
Weaving Fact And Fiction:
Ashby Jones’ resonating and lyrical words form haunting paragraphs, with fact and fiction intertwined to create a compelling novel.
But what makes this book a true page turner????? I believe it’s the writer’s ability to seamlessly tell his story from the sympathetic and beleaguered viewpoint of Johnny Flynn.
From the very beginning the reader is part of Johnny’s emotional conflicts, as he dutifully faces the heinous tasks assigned to him. His internal struggles with obligation, honor, patriotism, betrayal, love and deliverance, expose the reader to the multi-dimensional forces at work in a time of violent upheaval.
Giving voice to the strife on both sides of a conflict is a difficult task. But Ashby Jones illuminates the heart-wrenching dilemmas faced by all involved in this bloody fight for freedom.
The reader is introduced to rebel leaders such as Pearse, Countess Markievicz, and James Connolly, the infamous Black and Tans, the volunteer women of Cumann na mBan, and above all, the commoners on both sides, deeply affected by an unanticipated revolution.
Historical Persons As Fictional Characters:
As a reader of historical fiction I sometimes find myself in a quandry trying to decide if I like or dislike the practice of using true, real-life historical persons as main characters in a fictionalized novel.
As I started reading this book, I was unsure of the author’s choice to name Nora Connolly as one of the main characters, thereby creating an imaginary love story to dramatize history.
However, as I progressed through the pages I came to realize the writer is taking us on an emotional journey, where our human predicaments, contrasts, achievements and radical thinking are highlighted through the art of storytelling, and not merely the repetition of known facts.
At the beginning of The Angel’s Lamp, Ashby Jones explains his rational for constructing a narrative around real-life historical characters, where an emotional story prevails to further our understanding of difficult times …
“Fictionalizing the lives of historical persons
is herein done with utmost care and respect.
Such an approach attempts to emphasize how their prevailing,
recorded personalities, might have responded in situations,
which while based on the past, are often imagined.”
Interview With Ashby Jones:
I had the pleasure of speaking with Ashby Jones last week, to explore his novel’s theme, and his writing inspirations. His knowledge and interest in Irish history is commendable, so inevitably I had to ask the question …
Why choose Ireland as the setting for your novel?
Ashby Jones admits he is intrigued by Ireland and her history, despite the fact his ancestral roots are not Irish. He first visited Ireland many years ago and stayed at the Shelbourne Hotel on Dublin’s St. Stephen’s Green. There he learned how the windows of the hotel were blown out during the Easter Rising of 1916.
Over the coming days he asked more and more questions of Dublin folk, and visited the sites associated with the Rebellion – Kilmainham Jail, Arbour Hill, and the GPO.
But it was his visit to Kilmainham Jail that sealed his fascination with Dublin and the leaders of the Rising. As he stood in the loft outside Patrick Pearse’s cell a young couple started to laugh. The tour guide asked them to leave, and as he did, a strange draft passed through the loft.
Jones perceived a deep spiritual connection with the past, standing outside Pearse’s cell in Kilmainham Jail, kindling his quest to learn all he could about the people and heroes of 1916. He has since visited Dublin many times, and completed extensive research on her history and people.
A Few Little Pointers:
There are a few minor little glitches I noticed in this novel, which I feel compelled to highlight, as an Irish-born, avid reader of history.
At one point Johnny sings “The Fields of Athenry”, which was not written until the 1970’s. However, Ashby Jones so loves this song he envisioned Johnny Flynn belting it out in the corner of a Dublin pub. I thought perhaps Johnny would have sung “It’s A Long Way To Tipperary,” a favorite with the British Army at the time of the First World War.
One of the volunteers in Cumann na mBan is named Shannon, which is a beautiful and popular name used by Irish Americans today. I don’t believe any Irish woman at the time of the Rising would have been so christened.
James Connolly uses the name “Sarasol”, meaning freedom, for his beloved Nora. This may be an alternative Gaelic form of the word for freedom, but I have always used “Saoirse” to mean freedom in Irish.
The characters of this novel move through Dublin’s streets on foot. Their journeys were very familiar to me, and sometimes I couldn’t help thinking they could have saved themselves a few steps by choosing an alternative route. Only a Dublin girl, who cycled her city’s streets and alleyways as a student, would pay heed to such directional details.
Irish history is a favorite subject of mine, as you all probably know, and I must confess I did get a little lost in the progression and timing of this novel’s plot. The Black and Tans arrive in Ireland sooner than recorded in the historical timeline embedded in my Irish head, and the battle of Crossbarry in County Cork transpires far sooner than I expected.
I questioned Ashby Jones regarding what I perceived as a compression of time in his novel. He explained that as he wrote, the movement of the story became more important than strict adherence to a factual timeline. He eliminated the incongruities of time, to allow the emotional story prevail.
But rest assured, these minor issues are merely the musings of a picky Irish reader. For anyone wishing to be introduced to Irish history, or for those who wish to experience this difficult and transforming period through the sensitive lens of a skilled story teller, then this novel is for you.
Johnny Flynn navigates his personal conflicts, doing battle with the forces of good and evil, forgiveness and redemption, on his quest to find his moral compass. At one point Johnny wondered ….
“…. if both sides had not crossed some
unholy line that even in a time of war,
God could not sanction.”
The trials and tribulations of humanity are ongoing; some characters, like Johnny Flynn, are sensitive enough to recognize the chaotic plight of the human spirit, and are emotionally honest enough to take the reader on an unexpected and satisfying journey.
Fast paced, impassioned and poignant, The Angel’s Lamp is the perfect read for lovers of Ireland and her people.
One lucky reader will receive a copy of The Angel’s Lamp.
To enter just leave a comment on this blog post by noon on Wednesday, February 10th, 2016.
Any comment will do. What you write does not affect your chance of winning, but if you need inspiration for your entry why not tell us if you have ever visited any of the sites associated with the 1916 Rising.
A winning comment will be chosen randomly. Remember to leave your e-mail so that I can contact you should you win. Your e-mail won’t be published, just used to contact our lucky contestant for mailing of the prize.
Winners will be announced on Wednesday February 10th, 2016, at the bottom of this blog post.
You may check out Irish American Mom’s complete terms and conditions for sweepstake entries by clicking here.
A big thank you to Top Hat Books for sponsoring this prize. And thanks to everyone who supports this little giveaway. Best of luck to all the entrants.
Update – Winner Chosen:
Good news. Our winner has been chosen using the randomized “Pick Giveaway Winner” WordPress plug-in.
Congratulations to …..
I’ll send you a quick e-mail to let you know you are our prize winner.
Thanks to everyone who joined in and entered this little giveaway.
And a big thank you to Ashby Jones for introducing us to his writing and to Top Hat Books for sponsoring this prize.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom
P.S. I received a complimentary copy of The Angel’s Lamp for review purposes, and the publisher has sponsored the prize for this giveaway. This did not affect my critique of this novel, and the views expressed are my own.
Where to Buy The Angel’s Lamp:
A quick note: Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means that should you choose to purchase this book through one of my links, I will receive a small commission. This does not affect the price you pay.
You can purchase The Angel’s Lamp directly from Top Hat Books as a paperback or e-book.
Or you can purchase it from Amazon using the link below.