Book Review: Only with Blood

24 Sep

41el4NC2BwL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_When dying Jack Flynn decides he needs a bride so that he can father a son, his young wife Caitlin proves far more than he intended to buy.

Jack Flynn, strong and aggressive but slowly dying of tuberculosis on his farm in Tipperary in the Republic of Ireland, decides to acquire―purchase―a young wife who can bear him sons to inherit his family’s land. His choice, Caitlin Spillane, is less than half his age, attractive and intelligent, and resents bitterly the obedience that is forced upon her.

When a young firebrand, a supporter of the IRA, arrives in the village, he and Caitlin are drawn together in their detestation of Flynn. Flynn, traumatized by his own insurgent IRA experiences twenty years earlier, is secretly convinced that Eamonn de Valera’s more diplomatic, peaceful approach to Ireland’s problems is the only sane one.
Could Caitlin be won for the cause, and leave her unloved husband?

A novel set against the struggle for the heart of Ireland in the Second World War, when the IRA notoriously sought assistance from the Nazis, Only with Blood explores flawed characters placed in extraordinary situations.

Therese-Down-01-1-150x150Therese Down is currently working as the Head of English at a High School in England and has been teaching English Literature and Language for over twenty years in a range of schools and colleges. She holds a MA in Employment Law and is experienced in personnel management.


My Impressions:

The subtitle of Therese Down’s debut novel, Only with Blood, is A Novel of Ireland, and that is exactly what you get. Billed as historical fiction, I would add that this is literary fiction with a voice as unique as an Irish brogue. Beautifully written, though stark and sometimes depressing, Only with Blood is exceptional. It is, however, not what I would categorize as Christian fiction.

Only with Blood traces the stories of three main characters: Jack Flynn a 40+ year old farmer finally thinking of taking a wife, Caitlyn Spillane a 17 year old girl sold to Flynn by her father, and Donal Kelly a twenty-something idealist turned patriot turned terrorist. The backdrop is Ireland in 1943, a country torn apart by the fight between the IRA, Britain and the Irish government. Neutral during WWII, its people are definitely not at peace. The novel takes place amidst the mud and rain of rural Ireland and its cities full of socialist/communist/nationalist sentiments. Not an easy read, but definitely one that captures the imagination.

The characters that Down has created are developed through memories and recollections as well as contemporary (1943) circumstances. Each is a fascinating study of hopes, dreams, failures and fears. I didn’t like them much at the beginning of the novel, but they certainly grew on me. Jack is an especially compelling character who is burdened by a past of abuse, abandonment, and guilt. Caitlyn is definitely headstrong, but needs that in her survival within an archaic system of arranged marriage. Donal was my least favorite, but his sacrifice at the end redeems his character. The novel is dense with unfamiliar language and history, at least to me. I had no idea of Ireland’s history past the potato famine. But it was the foreign words and natural introduction of culture and history that gave this novel a great deal of authenticity.

Earlier, I stated that this is not a Christian novel, at least by American standards. Religion is a central part of the novel, as well it should be, as the the majority of those in southern Ireland were Catholic. Characters attend mass, nuns and priests are secondary characters, and Caitlyn’s sister enters the convent. It is pervasive, but there doesn’t seem to be any real connection between the characters and the God they profess to believe. It is more institutional than relational. There is a scene close to the end of the novel when Jack is assured of God’s forgiveness. That was a powerful scene, but really the only one of its kind. And being a British novel, there is mild profanity throughout. That seems to be fairly common for Christian novels published in the UK, though generally frowned upon in the CBA here in the US (although that is changing). (I added the mild designation after the author commented and people in a FB discussion showed there are widely varying definitions of what constitutes profanity. The words in question can be described as swear words.)

Although Only with Blood is relatively short, coming in at just over 300 pages, it took me a while to read. I had to stop to look up unknown phrases and words and the history of 20th century Irish politics. It is also dark and depressing, and I needed to take breaks to dispel the gloom. I know that doesn’t sound very positive. But while I didn’t really enjoy the novel, it certainly gave me a lot to think about. So while there are negatives, I still recommend it. I look forward to more books from Therese Down.

Recommended. (please note use of mild profanity, i.e. swear words)

Audience: adults.

Good for book clubs.

To purchase this book, click HERE.

(Thanks to Lion Hudson and Kregel for a review copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)


4 Responses to “Book Review: Only with Blood”

  1. Amanda Williams September 25, 2015 at 8:00 am #

    I enjoyed reading your review. Very honest and well-written. As an avid reader, I appreciate that.


    • rbclibrary September 25, 2015 at 8:48 am #

      Thanks! When I come across a book that may have content some of my readers won’t like, I try to be as thorough as I can. I don’t want to recommend a book that some might find offensive. This author has another book due out in 2016 that deals with Germany in WWII. Looking forward to it. Thanks so much for stopping by!


      • Therese Down September 26, 2015 at 12:59 pm #

        Thank you for taking the time to read and review my book and of course, you and anyone else who reads it are wholly entitled to your opinion of it regarding its literary merits.But I have to take issue with your assertion that my book contains profanity. To my knowledge, there is not a single profane word in the book. I don’t think Lion Hudson, a ‘Christian ethos’ publisher, would allow that! Perhaps you would be kind enough to at least indicate a page and line number on which a word appears that you would class as ‘profane’? Many thanks, Therese Down.


      • rbclibrary September 26, 2015 at 1:21 pm #

        The problem may be in differences in American and English definitions of profanity, especially for those who read Christian fiction. On page 13, Jack Flynn says “To h— wit’ you, Malachai Brett!” That is considered profanity in Christian circles here in the US and is not the only word of its kind in the book. Perhaps I should have stated it contained “mild” profanity, but most of my readers don’t really make a distinction. As I said, I recommend the book with that distinction. I don’t want any of my American readers to be unaware of language that they may find offensive. Thanks for commenting on the review. I do look forward to your next novel.


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