The Ballad of Lord Edward and Citizen Small

Written by Neil Jordan
Review by Thomas j. Howley

This novel begins grittily on an American Revolutionary War battlefield, where an escaped former slave, Tony Small, first makes the acquaintance of British Army officer Lord Edward Fitzgerald, a high-ranking aristocrat within Ireland’s English-installed gentry. Fitzgerald is gravely wounded, and Small risks his own life to save the officer’s. As a result, Tony not only becomes the lord’s lifelong companion but his best friend as well.

Over the ensuing years, the two, almost always together, travel across the wide expanses of the British Isles, North America, and France, pursuing various causes and adventures until Lord Fitzgerald ironically reverses his earlier British allegiances and becomes intricately involved in the desperate but ultimately betrayed Irish struggle for freedom in 1798. Along the way, Tony also manages to learn the reality of his own heritage and how his mother, from Sierra Leone, was captured and sold into slavery by North African Moors. To his surprise, Tony discovers his father’s background is even more exotic.

This book, based on true accounts primarily related to Lord Fitzgerald, is here told from Tony Small’s perspective. Readers may struggle with the apparently deliberate non-standard lack of punctuation and quotation marks in which the story is rendered. Many of the characters, some who flit in and out, are not particularly likeable except for “little Mary” and Tony Small himself. Despite my initial skepticism and misgivings, I found the book grew on me as I progressed further into it. It is simply a great historical story which becomes increasingly more interesting as events unfold. Despite some initial challenges in adapting to the unconventional format, I was quite glad I read it. Recommended.