Ashes on the Tongue
By J.J. Grafton
Set in Northern Ireland in the 1950s, the story revolves around Fen Crozier, a fifteen year old Protestant girl who’s forced to leave school and work in a linen mill by her father, the sometimes violent and cruel Victor. She gets no support from her mother, Ruby, who hasn’t spoken to her directly in two years.
At the mill, she learns that the family across the street, the McDermotts (who Victor regularly derides for being Catholic), are her relatives. More shockingly, Rose McDermott is Ruby’s estranged sister. In direct defiance to her father, Fen meets her aunt, uncle, and cousins, becoming friends with the oldest son, John Joe.
Doing her best to fit into her new world and refusing to be drawn into the fight between Protestants and Catholics, Fen attends a Catholic dance with John Joe, where they witness the atrocity of a Protestant B Special attack on members of the IRA, one of whom is John Joe’s friend. On a visit to see if his friend is okay, John Joe and Fen are drawn into the IRA conflict, but the real danger to Fen might be closer to home. As tensions and violence escalate, Fen can no longer straddle the fence between the religious divide, and will make decisions that have consequences more far reaching than she could have imagined.
I did my best to summarize this novel without any spoilers because if there’s no other book you read this year, it ought to be this one. In full transparency, Jacqui (the J.J. stands for Jacqui Jay) is one of my critique partners and a friend. I was fortunate enough to critique about half of this novel last year but for various reasons, wasn’t able to finish it. So I bought it THE DAY Jacqui announced its publication – then had to let it sit until I had a large enough block of time to read the entire book because I knew I wouldn’t be able to start it and not finish it the same day
Obviously, I’m a fan, and there are plenty of reasons to be one. Every character is fully fleshed out and you may not like them, but you’ll certainly remember them. It’s also an emotional roller coaster, taking the reader from aghast, to sad, to hopeful, to teary eyed, and right back to biting your nails. In some regards, this is a quiet, character-driven book, but there’s one hell of a plot moving the story along as well. It’s written in present tense omni and my hat goes off to any author who captures omni point of view really well. Up until now, Robin Willett topped that list for me and I’ve added Jacqui to it.
My only complaint, and the only reason I’m not rating it a full five stars, is the eBook formatting. Without paragraph indentations, it was sometimes difficult to follow the beautifully free-flowing prose.
I rated this novel 4.5 stars and I’m watching Twitter for Jacqui to announce its sequel.
Until next time, thank you for visiting.
My rating system:
5 stars – Wow, I could not stop thinking about this book and/or I wish I’d writtn it.
4 stars – This was an awesome novel, I’d recommend it to friends.
3 stars – This was a good novel, I will look for more by this author.
2 stars – An okay novel, but I probably won’t look for anything else by the author.