The FitzDeanes are wealthy. They have Ballyford Castle in Ireland and a growing shipping business in Liverpool. But Lady FitzDeane is unable to provide an heir. All of her five boys have died in infancy. There are whispers that the family is cursed - punished for a terrible mistake long buried in the past.
When young Ruby Flynn, an orphan reared and educated by nuns, arrives at Ballyford to work as a nursery maid, she cannot shake the feeling that she has been there before. But when?
Soon rumours and strong emotions are swirling around the beautiful girl with red hair, green eyes - and a mysterious past. Who is she really? And what will her arrival mean for this powerful family, riven by tragedy?
Ruby Flynn is the first book I have read by Nadine Dorries although she has written the popular Four Streets trilogy. For a change I was delighted to see an English author writing in the saga genre setting her book on the wild and rugged west coast of Ireland. Nadine provides her readers with a harrowing opening which was exceptionally written. Beginning in the worst winter in living memory in 1947 on Doohoma Head in County Mayo there is a family in peril and local villagers Con and Thomas are battling through the huge snowdrifts that blanket the country to get to the isolated house of the Flynn's. Conditions for weeks have been dangerous and tough for everybody. Food is scarce and people have been cut off from all routes into the village. Desperation forces the men out into the perilous country to check on the Flynn family – two children and their parents. Conditions are treacherous and the ground has frozen solid leaving it impossible to cut turf from the bog for fuel. When the two men battle through the snow the sight that meets their eyes is not what they have wanted. Both parents have succumbed to the cold. But where are the two children? Not far from the house the men stumble across little Ruby chilled to the bone next to her brother. They had tried their best to get turf but unsuccessfully. Through a miracle Ruby is still alive and taken by Con back to house. But the trauma Ruby has endured sees her mute for a year and brought to live in the Convent of the Blessed Heart. The tragedy of Ruby's childhood will leave it's mark on her but will she be strong to face what road her life path will take her down?
After reading such an exceptional opening I thought I would be in for a real treat with this book as I am becoming increasingly engrossed in books written in the saga genre. The first few chapters were real, intense, edge of your seat stuff. I was there every step of the way with the men as they fought the bitter cold to try and save the family. I had built up such a clear picture in my head through the authors vivid, harsh but necessary descriptions. Ruby Flynn had so much potential but further into the novel it strayed into unbelievable plot lines even for me and the mystery element was hardly a mystery at all. Instead revealed to the reader although not to Ruby way too early.
The whole background story to Ruby's heritage become tangled and confusing and even now I'm not so sure what to think about it. Ruby spends her early years in the convent and although not treated badly by the nuns she knows there is more out there for her and she will never forget the kindness showed to her by Con and his family. She longs to return to the little cottage on Doohoma Head and have her own family and children but when her education is complete she is put into service. Yet another obstacle preventing her from returning home to her birthplace. She feels like she will want to run away given the first opportunity and you really couldn't blame her but she finds herself inexplicably drawn to Ballyford Castle and its residents and wants to stay for a time at least.
Ballyford Castle seemed this mysterious place where the soul had left it. The castle became a character itself alongside its inhabitants and there were plenty of unanswered questions arising with each chapter. Ballyford Castle seems to have a strange hold over Ruby she feels this connection to it but can't quite put her finger on why. Lady Fitzdeane is a grieving woman having lost five babies. She spends her days in the nursery in silence and contemplation. No one can seem to crack the exterior she has placed around her self. Ruby is given a special job of caring for the lady of the house in the hopes that a young , bright girl will have some affect on her and bring her back to life and the glory days of the castle. The castle has lost all its essence and has slipped into the grieving the lady of the house is experiencing. Lord Fitzdeane too is heartbroken yes for the babies they have lost but also for the once vibrant wife he knew. He spends most of his time away from the castle investing in a new shipping business. You really couldn't blame Charles Fitzdeane from staying away from the castle as it obviously caused him pain and brought back memories he would rather leave buried deep but at the same time he had abandoned his wife and left the servants to run a household where the main players are noticeably absent be it physically or mentally. Ruby establishes a connection with Lady Fitzdeane as they both know what it is to experience loss and pain. They have a kindred spirit 'We have something in common you and I, Ruby. We both know what it is like to lose those closest to us. The only people we truly love'.Yet always at the back of Ruby's mind is this niggling feeling that she belongs at the castle as if there is some unknown connection to this place she now has to call home 'It was true, she did feel as though she belonged there and with each day the feeling got stronger'.
The book meanders along very slowly in parts as we are introduced to the various employees of the castle and Ruby familiarises herself with her new setting and the daily routines. There was a sense of a story not being told of people being kept in the dark and when it is revealed to the reader at the halfway point I was annoyed to say the least. Obviously Mr and Mrs. McKinnon as being high up in the servants hierarchy were privy to information others were not but I didn't want a reveal too early so when it came so abruptly although Ruby does not know the secret I was disappointed and from then on the book felt very flat and run of the mill. I like to be kept guessing right until the end and the although the final connection is not uncovered until the later stages of the book still the suspense was gone for me. The book slightly picked up with a major event which turned everything on its head. Like the opening chapters this was well written and packed full of emotion but it was just a little too late for me. Ruby Flynn could have been about a real voyage of exploration and development for our main protagonist but it was too choppy in places and flat in others for the author to pull this off successfully. Ruby was strong and courageous despite all she endured but when the big reveal came it just seemed a bit too whimsical and made me change my opinions of certain characters. As for the very ending it was all rushed and just a bit too apt with strings being tied up too carefully. Overall an average enough read that left me unsatisfied as I have read better books in this genre.
Many thanks to Head of Zeus for my copy of Ruby Flynn via NetGalley and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.