Eight-year-old Brigid is a spunky Irish princess. She has no intention of being sold into slavery by the Russians who kidnapped her and her fifteen-year-old sister, Melkorka. She and her sister decide to jump ship and swim to the shore, but for reasons Brigid never learns, Melkorka stays on board. Now the young princess must fend for herself in an unknown land. Although frightened, her determination to find her sister and return to Ireland compels her to fight for survival.
Brigid takes refuge in a barn. After witnessing a young woman secretly give birth and abandon her baby, Brigid saves the child and seeks help at the farmer’s dwelling. The local family begrudgingly takes in Brigid and the baby, and she lives there for three years. Amid protests, Brigid, now known as Alfhild, and the baby’s mother leave with a traveling storyteller, whom the older girl weds. Alfhild lives with the couple until a local boy discovers she is Irish. Again she takes off, eventually saving a young prince’s life. In gratitude, the king and queen adopt her, but Alfhild bides her time until she is old enough to track down her sister. When suitors begin to present themselves, she decides to escape, rallying several female servants and slaves to accompany her. They steal a ship and roam the seas as pirates, rescuing women and children from slave traders until Brigid finally finds Melkorka.
Children’s books often have unrealistic plots. What makes this historical novel difficult to assess is the mix of fantastic events, mature content and basic reading level. The publisher recommends this book for children ages 12 and older, no doubt based on vocabulary and literary style. Several scenes, however, may not be appropriate for middle-school aged children: the illegitimate birth and attempted infanticide at the beginning of the story, various references to sexual abuse of slaves, including the apparent gang rape of a slave woman, and brief nudity. While the incidents are not overly graphic, they are certainly not essential and disqualify this story for younger readers.
One interesting theme gives the book some value, however. In spite of the abuse of women in the story, Brigid never summarily blames all men for her plight. Along the way, she meets kind, just men. One in particular, whom she eventually marries, demonstrates great chivalry, refusing to take advantage of her when she is most vulnerable. He treats her with admiration and tenderness, protecting her while still respecting her independence. It is a shame that the author did not develop this relationship further.
Jennifer Minicus is a wife and mother living in Ridgewood, NJ.