Many A Hero Untold
David Hoggard and Bob Mumby
Sea Lion Press
As soon as I finished reading Many A Hero Untold, one of the ebooks released by Sea Lion Press in its latest tranche of offerings, I realised how little I know about the history and politics of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, two countries that share a landmass that is, after all, only a few miles away from the country that I live in; a flight from London to Dublin takes less than an hour and a half, and a flight to Belfast only a few minutes less. Both countries exercise an enormous amount of influence on Great Britain, and vice versa, particularly as the current Conservative government are reliant on the support of the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland to maintain its majority in Parliament. And yet despite this, as I started to read the first page of Many A Hero Untold, I am ashamed to admit that my knowledge of Irish politics would have filled the side of a matchbox with plenty of room to spare.
It was therefore my good fortune to discover that Many A Hero Untold is not only a first-rate piece of writing with an engaging and confident narrative, but also an excellent primer for Irish politics and culture in the early 20th Century. Although it is an alternate-history story that rapidly departs from what actually happened in reality, David Hoggard and Bob Mumby have obviously conducted a significant and impressive amount of research in the course of writing this title, particularly in regards to the political and social history of the Irish Republic. As a result, I can confidently say that I learnt more about those subjects by reading the first chapter alone than I did in years of history lessons at school, let alone all of the years after leaving education and reading newspapers, websites and social media.
Beginning with a minor change in the political history of the Irish Republic, Hoggard and Mumby effortlessly weave an impressive and disturbingly plausible counter-factual tale of an Ireland that somehow becomes even more polarised in regards to its politics, swinging between Communism and Fascism and having a far greater impact on British, European and eventually even international politics than it did in our reality. I particularly enjoyed the references to Irish involvement in the Spanish civil war, and the chapter that dwells on the impact this had on the life of one of the title’s characters was a high point for me. The concept of the ‘Other International’ was also deeply interesting, developing a fascinating counter-factual scenario that saw the Irish Republic become far more involved in the development of the Non-Aligned Movement in the Cold War.
Just as with Mr Mumby’s previous titles, such as Making Murder Sound Respectable, and his short story The Last Colony in Sea Lion Press’ anthology Remain Means Remain, the world-building is absolutely first-rate, and by the end of Many A Hero Untold, a world exists that is once again calling out for more stories to be told about it. Mumby and Hoggard’s writing is of a consistent high quality throughout the title, and it is a credit to both authors, and the book’s editor, that I could not tell which chapters (or sections) were written by which author, with none of the peaks and troughs that often mark a title written by co-authors who cannot create a consistent narrative voice.
In conclusion, Many A Hero Untold is another high-quality and engaging piece of alternate history published by Sea Lion Press, and one which gives a fresh take on Irish history, and shows how, with just a few small changes, it might have developed very differently.