5 Stars Out Of 5
Epic historical saga with the Wow! factor
February 20, 2014
Songs of the Shenandoah concludes The Heirs of Ireland, a three-volume series written by Michael K. Reynolds - three chapters of one epic story that captures the indelible spirit and hope of the Irish people, beginning with Irish immigration to America in the 1840s and ending shortly after the Civil War. With its lyrical writing, character depth, historical theme, and compelling narrative, this series is a rare gem in any market, but especially the Christian market. My emotions were engaged from page one of the first book, Flight of the Earls, and the connection only strengthened with the deepening of characterization and plot throughout the series.
And then there's that special something called the Wow! factor - which has been described as "a combination of a unique plot and setting, likeable and intelligent characters, and a distinct and readable writing style, or 'voice.'" While the last book of a series can sometimes be weak, Songs of the Shenandoah is in a class by itself - and for me, it truly has that Wow! factor.
Characterization is certainly one of this story's strengths, and it was pure joy to reunite with the Hanley and Royce families - characters who are not only "likeable and intelligent," but passionate about family and faith, caring, flawed, but willing to grow from their mistakes - in other words, real people that readers will care about also. A sense of pride and love for the Irish people, and heartbreak at all they have endured, is at the heart of this novel. Clare reflects: "Oh how the sons and daughters of Ireland floated away like tragic driftwood from that land! Pushed by uncaring tides to distant lands, where there they were plucked from the waters with hands of mockery and scorn."
Clare Hanley Royce, a storied reporter for her husband Andrew's newspaper, the New York Daily, is driven by desire "to confront the enemy face-to-face, with her pen if not the sword." Seamus Hanley, a mountain man turned preacher, learns that a military chaplain's job is to console the inconsolable. Davin Hanley, famed gold miner, yearned "for something more than the high society, fine clothes, and attention from women his wealth had attained."
Through characterization and plot, Michael has his finger on the pulse of war - from needless death, destruction, fear and cruelty to unparalleled courage, loyalty and faith. In a scene between General Stonewall Jackson and Seamus, Jackson points out that both sides will be praying for God's protection, to be in His will, and asks, "Who will God choose?" Seamus replies, "If there are soldiers, men, women, thousands and hundreds of thousands praying on either side, desperate for their Father, then maybe the victory is already won."
Pastor Asa mentors a young Seamus jaded by ministry with words that lead to a turning point in Seamus's life and he reflected on God's odd sense of humor in calling him to serve the very Army he had previously deserted. But isn't that often the way God works? Asking us to die to self and take up our cross, often bringing us back to the very root issue from which we initially sought escape?
Another strength of this story is Michael's lyrical prose, beautifully shown in this scene where Clare and Andrew worshipped at a black church in one of the poorest sections of Manhattan and felt the moving of the Holy Spirit. "Gathered in this very room were some of the poorest, most oppressed people in the entire city. But rather than hearing the cries of bitterness or anger, Clare heard something so rare to behold. The sweet sound of gratitude."
Another moving scene later on, between Andrew and a repentant Davin: "I know who you are," Andrew whispered in his ear. "I know who you can be." And isn't that exactly what we love to hear God speak into our hearts?
Over the arc of the Heirs of Ireland series, Michael has created a fascinating and intricately woven tapestry with his fictional characters that surely reflects something of what God's tapestry of our lives might look like: lives full of the hanging threads of doubt, disappointment, hardship, disbelief, joy, endurance, peace, and homecoming - yet so smoothly woven together and beautiful from God's omniscient view.
There's a moving scene where Davin asks a runaway slave named Jacob how he can sing, and I'll close with his poignant words: "My chains? They was cut long ago and for all times. I ain't get my freedom from no man. And no man can take it from me."
Songs of the Shenandoah is a memorable book, one whose characters and message will long be with me. Rating: 5++
Thank you to Michael and B&H Publishing Group for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.