Reviewed by Ian Lipke
The year 1685 is not a happy time in England. Disputes within families vie with enmities likely to lead to civil war. Sir James Avery tolerates the almost sisterly relationship that exists between his wife and the queen. However, he trusts neither of them. There is palace intrigue, political upheaval, and secrets whose revelation could lead many a man to the execution block. Neighbour dare not trust neighbour.
This is the third novel in the series that opened with Tidelands and continued with Dark Tides. The series focuses on the unrest that faced English society with the death of Oliver Cromwell and the rise to power of the profligate Charles II. The present volume takes up events after the death of the current monarch and defines the period before James II takes up power. There is rebellion in the air as the charismatic, but befuddled, Duke of Monmouth makes his bid for power.
Monmouth is unable to persuade the members of the noble classes to put aside their differences. Many families are deeply divided. Ned Ferryman is convinced of his rightness to return from America with his Pokanoket servant Rowan to join the rebel army. His sister Alinor, a level-headed, attractive character, fails to persuade Ned of the foolishness of his action. Instead, through the empty-headed, reckless actions of Livia Avery, she is dragged, with her son Matthew and the latter’s foster mother Alys into a plot to save the queen from Monmouth’s invasion. Alinor’s involvement in aiding the queen has a positive spin of returning her to her beloved Tidelands and placing Matthew in authority in a place where until now he and his mother had been lowly servants.
The confusion around the characters is not yet resolved. Alinor’s son, Rob, is determined to stay clear of the war, but when he and his nephew set out to free Ned from execution for treason and Rowan from a convict deportation to Barbados, they find themselves enmeshed in the creation of an imposter Prince of Wales – a surrogate baby to the queen. Of course, no such baby exists.
This story joins the ever-growing stable of novels grafted on to historical fact. Gregory is too astute to attempt to bend the facts to suit her story. Undoubtedly, each part aligns with the others. These are used to give credibility to the fictitious events and characters that form the bulk of the yarn. By introducing Ned as an important import from overseas, the way is laid open to include the mystery of Barbados and open the way to a new life in a whole new geographical context.
Gregory is a skilled operative. She knows how to intertwine the facts of history with elements of fiction. Her readers are ready to accept her version of history as seen through the eyes of people who don’t exist. The outcome is a well glued story that appears almost factual, but is certainly never lacking in interest. A well-written yarn for winter nights.
by Philippa Gregory
Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 978 176085 193 4
$32.99; 546 pp