I’ve mentioned that I’m having problems reading at the moment, haven’t I? I’m taking forever – and it’s not the books, it’s me. But not this book – I raced through it last Sunday, postponing dinner until I’d finished (sorry, Mum!), because I wanted so desperately to read to the very end. Through The Barricades by Denise Deegan absolutely took my breath away – and it’s a joy and a real pleasure to be taking my turn on the blog tour today. Historical fiction at its very best – and a wonderful family saga as well – this lovely book was published on 8th December, and is available for kindle and in paperback from Amazon in the UK and US. Even better, the kindle version is just 99p in the UK as I write, $1.23 in the US – or you might like to enter the competition for a signed copy (below).
She was willing to sacrifice everything for her country. He was willing to sacrifice everything for her.
‘Make a difference in the world,’ are the last words Maggie Gilligan’s father ever says to her. They form a legacy that she carries in her heart, years later when, at the age of fifteen, she tries to better the lives of Dublin’s largely forgotten poor.
‘Don’t go getting distracted, now,’ is what Daniel Healy’s father says to him after seeing him talking to the same Maggie Gilligan. Daniel is more than distracted. He is intrigued. Never has he met anyone as dismissive, argumentative… as downright infuriating.
A dare from Maggie is all it takes. Daniel volunteers at a food kitchen. There, his eyes are opened to the plight of the poor. It is 1913 and Dublin’s striking workers have been locked out of their jobs. Their families are going hungry. Daniel and Maggie do what they can. Soon, however, Maggie realises that the only way to make a difference is to take up arms.
The story of Maggie and Daniel is one of friendship, love, war and revolution, of two people who are prepared to sacrifice their lives: Maggie for her country, Daniel for Maggie. Their mutual sacrifices put them on opposite sides of a revolution. Can their love survive?
“Friendship, love, war and revolution” – a perfect description. But really so much more than that – characters you care deeply about, history (and the Irish background was something I knew shamefully little about) brought vividly to life, scenes of war so searingly real they’re totally impossible to forget, a series of friendships that are so desperately moving, and a love against all odds that has your heart beating faster and your whole being wanting everything to work out as it should.
After the prologue, this is a story told the way only a great story can be, and the way only an exceptional story teller can – absolutely straight, the parallel lives of Maggie in Dublin at such a significant point in its history, Daniel on the battlefields of Gallipoli and Salonika, their stories converging at points and so very dramatically towards the book’s conclusion. The descriptions and resulting images are quite exceptional, and there were times when I felt every moment – the soldier catching and returning grenades on the battlefield, the cleansing of wounds in the tented field hospital, the stifling heat and the clouds of flies, the ice on eyelashes, and the almost unbearable tension back in Dublin as the story played out to its conclusion.
The characters were quite wonderful – Maggie herself is complex and driven, fearless and frightened, to be admired while you also want to shake sense into her. Daniel is equally strongly drawn, his family background fascinating, his love for Maggie achingly real. The supporting characters too – young Lily, Daniel’s closest friend Michael, Maggie’s secretive brother Tom, larger than life Madame and a whole cast of characters so totally real and alive on the page. Yes, I learned about the history too, but that was just a wonderful bonus – and what a magnificent way to learn.
This is quite a book – simply stunning – and I absolutely loved every moment. Go on, you can tell, can’t you? Just make sure you don’t miss it…
Fancy an excerpt? This is how the book begins – with an event that shapes Maggie’s future…
Maggie woke coughing. It was dark but there was something other than darkness in the air, something that climbed into her mouth, scratched at her throat and stole her breath. It made her eyes sting and tear. And it made her heart stall. Flames burst through the doorway like dragon breath. Maggie tried to scream but more coughs came, one after the other, after the other. She backed up in the bed, eyes wide, as the blaze began to engulf the room. She thought of her family, asleep in their beds. She had to waken them – with something other than her voice.
She hurried from her bed, peering through flame-lit smoke in search of her jug and washbasin. Reaching them, she flung water in the direction of the fire and began to slam enamel against enamel, fast and loud. She had to back away as flames lapped and roared and licked at her. But she kept on slamming.
Her arms grew tired. Her breath began to fail her. And she felt the heavy pull of sleep. She might have given in had she been alone in the house. But there was her father. There was her mother. There was Tom. And there was David. She could not give up.
Then like a miracle of black shadow, her father burst through the flames, his head tossing and turning. His frenzied gaze met hers.
She began to cry with relief but relief changed to guilt as she realised that she had only drawn him further into the fire.
‘No! You were meant to take the stairs. You were meant to-’
‘It’s all right, Maggie Mae. It’s all right,’ he said, hurrying to her. He scooped her up and held her tight as he carried her away from a heat that burned without touching.
She felt cool air on her back as he opened the window. Wind rushed in, blowing the drapes aside. The flames roared louder, rose higher. But her father only looked out at the night sky. And down.
‘Missus O’Neill! I’m dropping Maggie down to you!’ he called. ‘Catch her now, mind. Catch my little girl.’ Then he looked deep into Maggie’s eyes. ‘Missus O’Neill is down below with her arms out for you. I’m going to drop you down to her.’
‘Will she catch you too?’
But he just smiled and kissed her forehead. ‘Make a difference in the world, Maggie.’
The sadness in his eyes filled her with a new terror. ‘But you’re coming too?’
He smiled once more. ‘I am, as soon as I get the others out. Now keep your eyes on mine, Maggie Mae. Keep your eyes on mine all the way down.’
From that point on, I was hooked – believe me, you will be too…
With thanks to Denise and tour organiser Brook Cottage Books, I’m delighted to offer one lucky reader the chance to win a signed copy, open internationally. Here’s the rafflecopter for entry:
ABOUT DENISE DEEGAN
Denise Deegan is author of several best-selling novels for adults and teens. She has been a nurse, a china restorer, a pharmaceutical sales rep, a public relations officer, an entrepreneur and a college lecturer. Her most difficult job was checkout girl, though ultimately this ‘experience’ did inspire a short story…
Denise’s writing for Young Adults includes The Butterfly Novels: And By The Way, And For Your Information and And Actually.
Denise writes women’s fiction as Aimee Alexander including Pause to Rewind, The Accidental Life of Greg Millar and All We Have Lost.