cover image A Ballad of Love and Glory

A Ballad of Love and Glory

Reyna Grande. Atria, $27 (384p) ISBN 978-1-982165-26-0

Inspired by the life of an Irish immigrant who served in the Mexican Army in 1846 and a Mexican nurse immortalized in a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier, Grande (A Dream Called Home) delivers a worthy old-fashioned epic of romance and war. After Ximena’s husband, Joaquin, is killed by Texas Rangers, she becomes a nurse during the Mexican-American War. John Riley, an Irish immigrant who initially serves in the U.S. Army, resents the harsh way his kinsmen are treated by officers. He deserts to Mexico, where General Santa Anna places him in charge of a unit made up of other Irish deserters called the Saint Patrick’s Battalion. Riley and Ximena meet during the defense of Matamoros. Despite having a wife and son back in Galway, Riley begins an affair with Ximena that continues through the Mexican army’s many defeats. An American victory almost certainly ensures that a captured Riley and his fellow San Patricios will be hanged, so Ximena embarks on an extraordinary effort to save his life. With a backdrop of American arrogance and Mexican corruption along with the nicely imagined relationship between Riley and Ximena, the author sharply illuminates the heroism of her characters. It’s a great story and a revealing look at a lesser-sung chapter of American history. Agent: Johanna Castillo, Writers House. (Mar.)