Saturday, 14 December 2013

Karen Andreas : A Few Men Faithful by Jim Wills

A Few Men Faithful
By Jim Wills
Review by Karen Andreas

Jim Wills’ A Few Men Faithful is the very best of reads.  It starts off with epic action and, before you know it, you are not only sucked into the story but also deeply involved with its protagonist, Danny Kavanagh.

This first in a series of four books about the Kavanagh family begins with the Easter Uprising in 1916.  Two of the three Kavanagh brothers literally ride into legend on a Triumph motorcycle, their arrival in and escape from Dublin breath-taking as the battle rages around them.  In brutally unsentimental prose, Danny crosses paths with the notables of the Uprising, including: Eamon de Valera, the mathematics teacher turned soldier; Joe McGarrity with his empty promises from Philadelphia; Countess Markievicz; Liam Lynch; Michael Collins, “the most dangerous, most enigmatic man in Ireland.”  Danny serves the Cause as an Irish Volunteer but, more importantly, as a member of the secret Irish Republican Brotherhood, the forerunner of the IRA.  This story follows his path from soldier battling to free Ireland from the British presence, to spy, assassin, husband, prisoner and, ultimately, survivor.

This is no glamorous, romantic look at the Irish revolt from 1916-1922.  It is instead an inside view of a cause that degenerated into civil war, Irish against Irish, and the cause for a unified, free Ireland bitterly fought, bitterly lost.  It sets out a moment in time when the Cause became the Troubles.  How it all came to that is the crux of the story.

Wills' unflinchingly illustrates the cost of the Cause through Danny’s story.  Danny’s actions resonate with everyone whose lives touch his, friends, family, church and, most importantly, his love for Sophie, whose father and sister are committed partisans.  Sophie’s devotion becomes an anchor for Danny as his life undergoes a metamorphosis from soldier to instrument of revenge to assassin.  Danny finds true albeit unlikely friendship with Sophie’s priest, Father Murtagh, whose care for and concern for the man transcends his religious vocation.   Father Murtagh’s rationalization for murderous retribution in the name of the Cause is a right fine dance indeed.

Danny struggles with the morality of his assassin’s role but remains steadfastly loyal to his convictions.  In the latter part of the book, Danny takes pen in hand and writes to his wife and his dearest friend – and finally opens up to the emotions he has had to manage – as well as providing an insider’s view of historical events.  The account of Bloody Sunday and its aftermath is chilling and fascinating. 

“Soon or never,” the characters say to each other.  Victory soon or it will never come.  You feel the urgency as the story progresses.  The disbelief as the war unravels is palatable.  Despair is just about always tempered by action, by resolve.  A Few Men (and women) Faithful matter.

Be sure to read the prologue, Beginnings.  Jim Willis brilliantly lays out the background of the story and describes the Irish psyche in uncompromising detail.  Here not only is laid bare the bitter promises never come to fruition but also descriptions of these people and their circumstances rendered with unvarnished truth. 

This is compelling reading indeed.   A Few Men Faithful is strong, fascinating historical fiction very well done. 

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This Review was written by Karen Andreas    

"My first introduction to historical fiction was in the mid-1960s, when I read Sword at Sunset; thus began a life-long love of reading this genre.  One of my dearest treasures is a hand written letter from Rosemary Sutcliff.  I am in awe of the masters of this craft.

My own background is in nonfiction.  I was editor of a fire service publication in Washington, D.C., and am currently the editor and chief writer of a quarterly botanical publication.  I live in Florida with my husband Michael, three cats (Yardley, Sparky and Boo Radley) and one horse, Mr. Bojangle"

If you would like Karen or anyone of our Review Team to review your book please check the Submissions Page


  1. For me this novel will be a must read as I have explored this topic. I come from Northern Ireland and studied Irish History in my first year at QUB. Oh so many books and not enough time to read them all. That also was a great review, just enough. Thank you for the heads up re this writer.

    1. Carol, I would be most interested in what you have to say after reading this book. It's one thing to view this story as an outsider (an American, albeit of Irish descent). I would like to hear from you since Northern Ireland is your homeland. - Karen

  2. I have this book on my kindle and am looking forward to getting round to reading it

  3. A fantastic review - makes the book sound like a must-read!

  4. Great review, the book sounds tremendous!

  5. Karen, Yours is a fantastic and accurate review. Thank you! It's rare when the review is a well done as the book and this is one of those rare things! The book is really compelling and also illuminating, as you say. Wills is a literary master - it's not just historical fiction, it's a work of art! Thank you once more for the fine review...well deserved!