Reyna Grande’s historical novel about a Mexican army nurse and an Irish soldier during the Mexican-American War is inspired by true events and historical figures. The year is 1846. After the controversial annexation of Texas, the US Army marches south to provoke war with México over the disputed Rio Grande boundary.
Ximena Salomé is a gifted Mexican healer who dreams of building a family with the man she loves on the land she calls home. But when Texas Rangers kill her husband, becomes a battlefield nurse, a character immortalized in a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier.
Meanwhile, John Riley, an Irish immigrant in the Yankee army, is sickened by the unjust war and the unspeakable atrocities committed against his countrymen by nativist officers. In a bold act of defiance, he swims across the Rio Grande and joins the Mexican Army—an act punishable by execution. He forms the St. Patrick’s Battalion, a band of Irish soldiers willing to fight to the death for México’s freedom.
John and Ximena cross paths and begin a passionate love affair, even though he has a wife and son back in Ireland. Historical figures include John Riley, who led the Batallón San Patricio, General Lopez de Santa Anna, General Zachary Taylor, and US Army officer Braxton Bragg.
This is a very educational book. The battle over Texas is a forgotten war rarely written about in fiction. It is disheartening that noncitizen Irish soldiers fought for the Yankee army and were so badly treated that many deserted and fought for the Mexicans, in part because they couldn’t practice their Catholic religion.
A Ballad of Love and Glory is a beautiful love story filled with complex characters and vivid history. Intense, horrific scenes are well described by the author, so it might not be a good fit for those sensitive to violence. 4 stars.
** Thanks to NetGalley and publisher for providing a review copy of this book. The opinions are my own.