Run with the Hare, Hunt with the Hound

Written by Paul Duffy
Review by Ray Thompson

Ireland is in the late 12th century, and the Norman invasion has begun. Alberic is the son of a Norman slave in Gaelic Meath (Midi), but after his capture by Hugh de Lacy he is taken to Dublin to serve as a translator. When King Henry grants Midi to de Lacy and the Norman army inexorably advances towards his old home, Alberic finds himself torn between confused loyalties. Despite mistreatment, he forms bonds with those among whom he was reared, but de Lacy offers hope for security and a better life—perhaps even with Ness, a fellow slave with whom he falls in love?

Alberic is an outsider and highly vulnerable. Whether slave or captive, he has few if any rights, depends upon the unreliable good will of great lords, and is widely resented and mistrusted by their followers. Through his eyes we witness the hardship and suffering experienced by the underclasses and the defeated: beatings, torture, slaughter, execution, rape, and wanton destruction. Moments of kindness and friendship, love, and hope are fleeting and undercut by anxiety, constant fear, and cruel reversals of fortune. This is a dark vision of life in a turbulent era and, as modern wars have reminded us, it is disturbingly credible. Even Alberic, despite his sympathy for the victims, can get swept up in excesses of violence that mark mobs, gangs, and soldiers when discipline and restraint are abandoned.

The author is an historian and archeologist, well versed in the details of life in that time and place. The use of Gaelic words and patterns of speech can pose a challenge to the reader, but they do add authenticity to the first-person narrative. Strongly recommended, especially to those with romantic delusions about life in the past—or present, for that matter, in far too many places.