The Dublin Saga is the first of two parts of The Princes of Ireland, a tale so rich and full that its people come to life on the pages, from nobles and ladies to merchants and thieves, and, to be sure, a saint.
The author of Sarum and London uses the same successful format for the evolution of Ireland from A.D. 450. Choosing particular characters from each era, Edward Rutherfurd draws a line through the pages of history from one generation to the next, in a fictional proposal of family lineage. However, the historical details are strictly based in fact. It is an interesting approach and gives the reader a solid point of reference as the various tribes survive the march of progress.
Covering the years from A.D. 450 to the dawn of the Renaissance, Rutherfurd highlights particular events: the arrival of St. Patrick and the beginning of Christianity, the landing of the Vikings, the significant reign of Brian Boru, King Henry IIís arrival in Ireland in 1171 and finally, the hanging of Silken Thomas by King Henry VIII. All of the stories are central to Dublin in its various manifestations and pronunciations. Most marked of the events is the British invasion of Ireland, in small increments over many years, the Kings of Ireland eventually incurring the wrath of Henry VIII.
The earliest years of the Emerald Isle are described in all their stoic beauty, as yet barely touched by humanity; certain provinces once named Ulster, Connacht, Munster and Leinster are unchanged through time. The fated couple of the first chapter is captive to the powers of the gods, whose wishes are expressed by the druids and the High King. Such is the structure of their rigid society that destiny proscribes the measure of a man. Thirty years later, Saint Patrick carries the Christian faith to the pagans. Gradually the Christian beliefs spread, gathering converts, offering freedom from the brutal blood sacrifices of paganism.
Once Christianity replaces the old religion, it has the weight of governance; the Church has the final word on decisions that affect the people, disputes and common disagreements. The centralized Roman Church exerts a more rigid control over its followers, who are guided by the bishops. Once the English have invaded Ireland, their feudal system is also linked to the control of the Church, until the later separation of Catholic and Protestant, which changes the dynamic.
The beauty of historical fiction is that when it is well done, the finished product gives context to the dates that mark the seminal events of civilization. Rutherfurdís particular skill is in the creation of his characters, who meld so perfectly into their historical perspectives that it is possible to imagine life in such distant times. The challenges, battles won and lost, the changing religious beliefs and the generations that populate this novel, create a vivid image of time and place.