My daughter was the recipient of a fair number of her older brother’s hand-me-downs. Similarly, her younger brother inherited a number of hers. But never - not once - as a baby or a toddler, regardless of whether they were wearing pink or blue, ruffles or stripes, did anyone mistake whether they were a girl or a boy. I mention this because countless romance heroines have cut their long tresses, exchanged their skirts for pants, and fooled practically everyone into believing they’re a lad rather than a lass.
Irish Hope is a most recent version of this plot as the intrepid heroine sets out seeking adventure among the functionally blind. She’s got a bust (admittedly on the small side) and a teeny tiny waist, but all she has to do is put on a boy’s clothing and voila! instant transformation. Now maybe this would work if she were only viewed from a distance by the extremely myopic, but the hero picks her up and shakes her at their first meeting, is forever lifting her onto a horse, and has his hands on other body parts any number of times, but hey! she’s skinny and wearing pants so she must be a twelve-year-old boy, right? And how come this lad doesn’t tinkle against a tree like the rest of the guys? Apparently nobody notices. As I said, the functionally blind.
What makes this ruse particularly difficult to swallow is that the hero with his band of merry men is off seeking a runaway lass with a big dog. You’d think finding a skinny lad with a big dog would trigger some sort of reflection on the hero’s part, but no. He wonders if the missing lass lost her dog. Frankly, what we have here is a TSTL (too-stupid-to-live) hero. Long after other people have figured it out, he’s still oblivious.
Hope is a descendant of the High Kings of Ireland. Her uncle is arranging a dynastic marriage for her. Hope acknowledges her obligation to marry in order to preserve the royal line, but before she takes such a drastic step, she wants to experience Ireland, have adventures, and possibly even discover a great love. So she disguises herself as a young lad and sets off secretly with her dog to explore the country.
Colin is charged by his lord Eric of Shanekill to search out the missing Hope. He and a band of men question peasants and villagers but find no trace of the object of their search. While camping one evening, a dog and a young lad try to steal some food. In short order, Harold, who is in reality the missing Hope, and the dog join the band on their journey. The very indulgent group quickly becomes very fond of the plucky Harold, and Hope gets to learn about men from an unusual perspective.
She finds herself fascinated by the manly leader of the group. She learns of his celebrated reputation among women and his comrades as a skilled lover, but in conversation with him she discovers that in his heart he truly seeks a deep forever love. (Does it seem very likely that a great warrior would be confiding in a twelve-year-old boy that he’s really seeking his true love? One he can call ‘forever mine’?)
Hope finds herself more and more attracted to the virile warrior. She fears his reaction, however, once her disguise is revealed, and he knows her to be Hope rather than Harold.
Irish Hope is the sequel to The Irish Devil, and the characters of the earlier novel have prominent roles in this one. Since The Irish Devil was set in medieval times, presumably the sequel is also set in the same period, but no specific date is ever given and it could easily take place in any of a number of centuries.
The book’s pace is as plodding as the trek by foot through Ireland. The plot is too thin to support a book of nearly 400 pages. I frequently lost interest and only persevered because I had to read it to review it. The dialogue doesn’t add much excitement. It’s hard to imagine a story where more characters regardless of gender or social position talk about love so often. About searching for love. About needing love. About making love. These people have far too much time on their hands.
Unfortunately the main characters are no more engrossing than the weak plot. Hope’s decision to disguise herself as a boy and set off on a expedition of discovery seems shallow and self-centered and merely a device to put the hero and heroine in proximity with a Big Misunderstanding to provide some conflict. She doesn’t seem to have considered for a moment that her loving uncle and aunt might be concerned and launch a wide search for her. I also doubt the easy acceptance of others when they learn of her exploits. The general attitude seems to be along the lines of “You go, girl!” rather than “You did what??”
I found Colin particularly annoying. As unlikely as it might seem, Colin’s even more shallow than the Hope. Apparently women across Ireland are throwing themselves at his fantastic body, and being the swell guy he is, he’s willing to oblige. What passes for character development is that he’s a hot stud and a loyal man of his lord.
Moreover, one thing about Colin that absolutely did not work for me is a snippet of background information. He dismisses his mother because she was a nonentity cowed by his overbearing father (who also intimidated the young Colin) so felt no grief at her death. But he was infatuated with his father’s long-time mistress, an older woman who initiated him at the age of fourteen into the sexual mysteries (yes, that creepy scenario again) and grieved deeply when she died. It is hard to respect a hero who esteems his father’s (and his) mistress over his frail mother.
Readers who enjoyed The Irish Devil and are interested in being updated on its characters may want to check out Irish Hope, but with its slow pace, thin plot, and unappealing main characters, other readers will want to think twice.