Sometimes those who appear to have a perfect life are the ones with the darkest secrets.
Sarah Murphy, the young schoolmistress of Somerset National School is a respected member of her local community. A woman with a deep secret that must remain hidden for the time being as she hides behind her schoolteacher clothes.
While dedicating her life to improving the lives of her students in the hopes of creating a better world for all, with each instance of hope, Sarah encounters a new measure of despair. Her heart is pulled by the man she rushed to marry. Sean, enigmatic and charming from the moment she met him, captivating her with his lazy smile and easy way. Sean, an elite member of the IRA and a man on the run.
Theirs is a story of unabashed love, sorrow and heartbreak as Ireland devolves into a period of violence and political unrest as opposing ideals clash. Danger lurks on every corner and never knowing who is watching or who to trust, Sarah while trying to portray an air of calmness and self-assuredness feels isolated, helpless and at times very alone. Time spent with Sean is precious as he moves under the cover of darkness from one safe house to another while he directs a lethal style of guerrilla warfare against the forces of the British crown, who have occupied Ireland for hundreds of years.
Then Sarah discovers that she is pregnant, but her husband is missing in action, and as weeks pass, hopes fade for his safe return. This calamity forces Sarah to dig deep into her past to make sense of her life and, if she is successful, find a way to reconcile the anguish building in her heart.
Worlds are upended as revelations come to light about her so-called father while the identity of her real father is exposed. Yet she must protect herself and her unborn baby and she needs to escape from the maelstrom of violence all around her but that may prove more difficult than it seems.
One way or another, life as she knew it is quickly ending. Sarah just hopes she lives long enough to escape to safety.
Reapers of Justice is a historical novel set during the Irish War of Independence, one of my favourite periods to read. It was a very complicated time in Irish history. Anne Frehill depicts those times vividly from the perspective of a little community in Meath rather than from the more common city’s perspective.
The story per sè is quite simple, though a few subplots eventually come together. But I really enjoyed the themes the story touches upon: women’s position in a traditional setting, the difficulties of giving an education to the young ones in a community that needs the work of every available hand, and women’s mutual help. But also self-discovery and the strength that we often don’t know we have until we need it.
The novel starts off slowly. There is quite a bit of setting up, but about halfway through, the pace takes up, as Sarah is forced to find her own way in the world, dodging dangers on the road and the tricks of her own mind.
I enjoyed the journey through the Irish countryside. It comes to life as its own characters, but also it’s well placed inside the historical time, with all the dangers that travelling alone in a place presided by an informal army entailes.
It was a nice read. If you love Irish history, give it a go!
Reapers of Justice
“The blessings of God on you and the little one in your belly,” she exclaimed.
Sarah stared at her with an expression of disbelief.
Before she could reply, Biddy-Anne continued.
“Don’t look so shocked Miss, when your belly has carried so many babies as mine, you learn how to know when there is another one on the way. There is a look in your eyes and the pallor of your dial that gives it away.”
Sarah held onto the back of the chair with her two hands while she recovered from the shock.
For a few minutes, there was silence as the tinker arranged the food n her basket.
Then Sarah spoke.
“I am disappointed that you are so disrespectful. How dare you paddle lies about me. I have had a sick stomach for the last few days, but it is due to some form of food poison as I ate meat which was gone off. Now, please be on your way.”
“But I mean you no harm Miss, I just know the signs so well myself that I was trying to be helpful as I can see you don’t know yet that you are expecting.”
Sarah swept down the hallway and held the door open for her.
“It’s all mambo jambo, real gypsy talk! Like the fortune tellers at the fairs who tell every woman they see that they will soon hear wedding bells and the patter of little feet.”
The tinker woman followed her but hesitated before going out.
“You think now that I am just a fool, but time will tell – I know what is like to be chased out of town so if you ever need a place to hide you can come to us.”
Sarah’s mouth fell open at the audacity of the tinker, who was gazing at her.
Then, after a few seconds, she managed to say stiffly.
“I wish you and your family Godspeed.”
Undaunted, Biddy-Anne touched Sarah’s shoulder affectionately.
“Goodbye and good luck!”
This post is part of the Reading Ireland Month, a March event organised by Cathy Brown from the 746 Books Blog. It celebrates everything Irish, from books (of course!) to films, arts, food, culture and history – and much more of the Emerald Island.
Go have a look. It’s great fun!