A Band of Roses by Pat McDermott is an ambitious work of romance, adventure and intrigue set in a 21st Century that has been forever changed by a fictionalized alternative history of the ancestors of Ireland’s King Brian Boru, who in this story wins the Battle of Clontarf, and goes on to found a dynasty that prevails in present day.
The epic begins when the Irish crew of the Fancy Annie are gunned down 200 miles off the Donegal coast in the North Atlantic by an English gunboat manned by Captain Andrew Mayne of the HMS Coulter and the evil Prince Geoffrey Wessex, Regent of the Kingdom of England. Their plan is to annex the tiny island of Fargan and lay claim to it because they believe oil lies beneath it.
Heroine Taillte Rosaleen Boru will soon be the 4th Queen of Ireland. Talty, as she is known, is 20-years-old and a member of the Irish navy as well as the Crown Princess. She does not like to think about the death of her father Brian, who is only 50, and still strong and healthy, but she must prepare herself for her inevitable responsibility to the Kingdom of Eire.
King Brian’s younger brother, Prince Peadar is the leader of the present day Fianna and it is Talty’s dream to become a Fian warrior and earn their distinguished gold pin. Peadar’s stepson, Neil Boru, is training Talty for this honour and he takes his role as Talty’s “Shivail” (protector) very seriously.
Geoffrey Wessex will waive his claim to Fargan if Talty agrees to marry the developmentally challenged King Thomas Wessex who has a pitiful reputation and is ailing from a neural disorder. King Brian of Ireland agrees to this unholy union and marries off Talty to Thomas, who almost kills her on their wedding night. Realizing almost too late what he has done, Thomas is horrified, and backs down, only to have his cousin Roger Wessex jump in and finish the dastardly deed himself.
The Boru clan let the Wessex men believe that Talty died from her injuries, when in fact they hid her away in the Scottish highlands while she underwent numerous surgeries to repair the damage.
Meanwhile, Brian Boru hires Eric Yamada of Mamoru Services Ltd. in Ireland to provide telecommunications security for his estate which is ever under the threat of a siege. After Eric is hired to establish a surveillance system in their home, a second attempt is made on Talty’s life, and for a second time she is married off (to Eric who is in love with his business manager, Kiyoshi Sasaki and therefore no real husband to Talty) and relocated to Japan in order to save her life while the Borus seek vengeance against the Wessex clan.
The cast of characters in this novel is large and ever changing as we follow what can only be the destiny of Talty Boru and her Band of Roses: cousin Neil Boru, brother Liam Boru, Aidan Dacey (Talty’s godfather’s high-spirited son) and cousin Kevin Boru (Neil’s half-brother). I read this book in PDF format which was a challenge because of its length and the fact that I had to take notes to remember who everyone was and how they were related to each other.
In Chapter 7, the narrative changes when Talty is moved to Japan, from the narrator’s voice to Talty’s. Eric soon recommends that she has further reconstructive cosmetic surgery to remove the scars on her face (but the ones on her body are mysteriously left alone) and she agrees. Talty quickly wins the respect and affection of Eric’s aunt Imi and his servants and settles in to life in Japan. She begins samurai warrior training led by Eric and Kiyoshi and soon develops an entirely new identity, that of Christy McKenna, Major in the International Security Forces (ISF).
The setting changes frequently from Ireland to Japan to California and back to Ireland again. Talty is a heroine worth cheering for and we lay in wait with the hope that she and Neil, who has been in love with her for quite some time but believes that he can’t marry his cousin, can finally declare their love for each other and live happily ever after.
Eric is killed off in a random helicopter accident and Talty finds herself in yet another subplot that is reminiscent of the book Timeline by Michael Creighton. Talty finds herself involved in the ISF’s Bioengineering Division’s top secret Peregrine Project that enables her and ISF “special agent” Colonel Richard Gale, formerly of MI6, to time travel back to 1014 Ireland to the Battle of Clontarf where Talty’s Fianna warrior training serves her well. The actual way this is physically achieved is not explained in much detail and the fact that Talty ends up giving away her virginity to a “portal person” named Gayth MacDunlan in this parallel world doesn’t ring true. Talty, up to this point, does not come across as a woman who would throw away her virginity on the first man she’s sexually attracted to after only having known him for a very short time.
Chapter 17 doesn’t seem to really fit in with the rest of the novel and I don’t really understand why it’s there. It’s another time travel experience for Talty, Richard, and Nick and they end up somewhere in the Middle East presumably in an unknown time and an unknown country. Talty/Christy meets so many different people during her time travel that you can barely keep track of them all!
By the time we get to Chapter 31 and the climactic love scene between Talty and her cousin Neil, I would have expected a much more sensual and dramatic coupling between the two, but when Neil says to Talty, “I’m going to claim you babe, are you sure you want it?”, I cringed.
“Neil ventured his claim, riding Talty with rugged domination and cuddling her with tenderness. He loved her again and again, until they collapsed together in a contented tangle.”
If that’s not a disappointment to 549 pages of build-up, I don’t know what is. McDermott is a respectable writer, but she is not a strong writer of love scenes. She does however seem to thrive on the adventure and mystery of the story and does it very well.
Throughout the tale we are occasionally brought back to Roger and Geoffrey Wessex and their evil plan to obliterate the Borus, but for the main villains in this piece, they’re not in it as much as they should be because there are so many other smaller characters tossed in to try to pull off their dirty work. I would have liked to read more scenes with them and there are times when McDermott ends up making statements like this that made me roll my eyes:
“Roger would gather the Borus and somehow annihilate them. Nothing personal. The triumphant lion must eliminate the cubs to establish dominion over his new pride.”
Overall, A Band of Roses kept me interested in what was going to happen next and was fun if not romantically a bit disappointing. I would read more novels from Pat McDermott and I already have a chance as she has since written another volume of romantic adventure set in Ireland entitled Fiery Roses. If you love stories set in Ireland as I do, you’ll enjoy these books.