When it comes to historical fiction, I’m choosy. I want to see you’ve put your back into your work. Stimulate me. Make me set your book on my chest mid-paragraph and go ahhh… that’s good writing! And I’m cautious when it comes to reviewing work I’m unfamiliar with. People I like have asked me to proof, edit, and beta-read their work. Dedicated, career writers. And more than once I’ve been shocked by what I see, at times wondering if they’ve ever read a book.
So I was equally cautious when I received Renny deGroot’s Torn Asunder. Not skeptical. Just cautious. I know what I like when it comes to historical fiction. I want proof of research. Effort. I want to be engaged. I like Diana Gabaldon, for example. For obvious reasons. And I like Bernard Cornwell, perhaps in part because he writes faster than I can read. There are others, but those two are the most fun to mention.
In deGroot’s words, describing this story: Fiercely loyal, Emmet Ryan plays his part in the war against the British to see a free and united Ireland. As a 16-year-old boy, Emmet joins his father and brothers in the Finglas Volunteers during the 1916 Easter rebellion. The effects of that week mark Emmet for the rest of his life as he wrestles between his allegiance to his country and loyalty to his family. At times he isn’t sure he’s given enough to the fight until the day he realizes he may have given too much. The story of Ireland’s birth as a modern nation and her turbulent formative years is woven into the very fabric of this multi-generational family drama.
I felt I could trust Renny deGroot. Trust her to entrust me with her work. She understands the military. She has knowledge of what she writes about. Passion too. I’ll commit to this story. DeGroot’s lived in Ireland. This further bolsters my confidence in her work. The history of a storytelling nation told by a storyteller. Having circumambulated the country, traipsed in the footsteps of Joyce, and gawked at the Book of Columba, I appreciate how Éire inspires one to read and to write.
As an accomplished lyricist, deGroot understands music as well, and I find that lyricality in her prose. DeGroot’s story is strong. Characters are tidily laid out in an introductory list – a map to plot our course. I’d like to see tighter editing, but I prefer laconic writing.
Torn Asunder is a well-researched novel. With abundant dialogue, it takes skill to find a comfortable place where period language (in this case, early twentieth century) still flows in readable modern vernacular. DeGroot does an admirable job. But the success of this book lies in the author writing what she knows – facets of what she’s experienced and what she’s passionate about – the foundation of an engaging read, and a writer we can trust. Congratulations are due to this self-published author. Not many can do it and those who do, like DeGroot, earn the right to share their work with the world.
About the Author: Renny DeGroot is a first-generation Canadian of Dutch parents, born in Nova Scotia, who grew up in Toronto. She studied English Literature at Trent University and creative writing at Ryerson University and is a published poet, short-story author and active member of SOCAN. Her debut novel, Family Business, was shortlisted for the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize, 2015. She lives in rural Ontario with her Great Pyrenees and Chocolate Lab.
About the Reviewer: Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of 2019 WIBA Finalist Gone Viking: A Travel Saga and Dromomania: A Wonderful Magical Journey. His Indie Folk CD is Studio 6. Bill’s poetry, articles and columns are published in Canada, the US, UK, Europe and Asia. When not trekking the globe with a weatherproof journal, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, making friends and misbehaving. https://www.amazon.com/author/billarnott_aps
Torn Asunder by Renny deGroot
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