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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Saint Patrick's Battalion: A Novel by James Alexander Thom

A disappointment

Published by Ballantine Books in 2006.

To start, let me establish my bonafides as a fan of Mr. Thom's work. Three of his novels sit on a shelf less than two feet from this computer. I have the featured review on Amazon.com one of his novels ("The Red Heart"). One of his books is on my Favorite Books List on my profile page. I actually designed a long-term project for my world history classes using historical fiction with his books in mind, and I told him so when I met him at a state-wide conference for social studies teachers.

So, I approached St. Patrick's Battalion with much hope. Instead of his usual quality, I found this book to be simplistic, with less detail and bent on beating two points home time after time: the Irish were treated brutally and shamefully by the U.S. army during the Mexican War and the Mexican War was an unjust war.

James Alexander Thom
Thom makes it clear in the opening dedication and acknowledgments that he is against the Iraq War and quite clearly he is drawing analogies between the two. However, Thom never really gets off of his twin focuses on the unjust war and the unjust treatment of the Irish. He never gets to his real strengths in his other books - bringing the reader into another world and teaching us about larger movements in history, but also about the day-to-day lives and goings on of our ancestors. Thom rarely gets beyond the superficial and develops the characters and that is a shame - and a loss to Thom's loyal readers because when his books are good they are fantastic.

Thom's format is the main cause of the failure of this book to be as excellent as his others. His chosen format is a diary of a 10-12 year old Irish-American boy (Quinn) with the U.S. Army and the remembrances of a Mexican man (Juvero)about his experiences during the war as a young boy 16 years later. The diary entries are the better of the two, but are often sketchy. The remembrances are very repetitive and full of Spanish phrases that must be annoying to readers who don't know any Spanish. He often comments about Manifest Destiny, the Irish and America's arrogance. It gets old - not that he wasn't right, but he made his point early and often - it's time to move on. I must admit that I started skimming his sections. I think that Juvero says it best on page 256: "Que Rollo! My preachings are a bore!"

So, to sum up: not his best work. I recommend you read any other Thom book before this one.

I rate this book 2 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Saint Patrick's Battalion: A Novel by James Alexander Thom.

Reviewed on July 30, 2007 (edited June 24, 2012).

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