Nick and his sister Anne know well the cruel justice of King Charles I and the dangers of speaking out against the Crown. Burning with righteous passion for the cause of political and religious freedoms, hotheaded Nick fights against royalist forces with Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army while his talented sister, Anne, works with their father to print illegal pamphlets in a tiny shed hidden on Lord Owen’s land. The fruits of their rebellion are realized when they are witnesses to the historic trial and execution of the bloodthirsty monarch, but their hopeful outlook for peace in the Commonwealth and Anne’s wedding day is shattered by the tragic death of their five-year-old sister. The arrest of Lord Owen’s wicked son Rupert for the crime begins a chain of events that entwine their lives, leading to a night of violence that irrevocably seals their fates, and they must embark on a dangerous voyage across the sea to a new beginning in the English colony of Virginia. With brilliant descriptions and lyrical prose, novelist D J Presson conjures the vibrant world of 17th century England in her stunning new novel of love and heartbreak set against the drama of political rebellion.
From the Publishers via Netgalley.
It starts with Anne’s family print a broadsheet on their illegal press, and then Anne goes to 17th Century London, to deliver the papers to their customers for distribution. The first few chapters of the book therefore are used to demonstrate the fervent anti-Monarchy sentiment (focused on Charles I) swirling around the city immediately before Charles’ trial. Interesting technique, with an appearance of John Milton the poet in an early chapter, but which could have got very heavy handed had it gone on much longer.
During a visit to one of their customers, a bookseller, Anne’s relationship with Edward deepens, and it’s not long before the two are engaged, then marry. Here the book speeds up, and it is on their wedding day that the youngest sister, Jane, is killed by Rupert, the son of their landlord Lord Owen.
Whilst Lord Owen lives, much is well and the extended family prosper as much they can. However, upon his death, Rupert inherits, despite being a drunken gambler who has raped one of the local chambermaids, getting her pregnant. Soon, plots of the land are being sold off to pay off debts, and the pamphlet publishing (used to feed Edward’s bookstore) has to stop, as there’s nowhere to store and run it.
It’s not long before the Black Death makes an appearance and kills many of the locals, including Anne’s father, husband and infant son. It doesn’t kill Rupert though, which makes Anne angry against God for taking the godly, whilst sparing the evil.
Life still goes on on the farm, and with the store in London, they do well enough. Nick has his eye on one girl, whose father only objects to the marriage because Nick has no financial stability – he has no trade and the family dont own the farm they live and work on. Nick is therefore offered the chance to work for the family business, or go out to Virginia to work and make his money on the tobacco farms. At first he takes to the family business, to be near to his family, but after a year, realises it’s not going to work out.
This presents him with a dilemma – what to do with the family as they have lost the farm, and the shop wont support them all. The latter part of the book is spent trying to find a new husband for Anne, and they find someone who is suitable. However, a run in with Rupert puts paid to that, and it is decided that Anne will join Nick in travelling to Virginia. The book finishes with them on the boat as it pulls away.
There has clearly been a lot of research and the author attempts to generate a sense of place and time for the reader, especially what it was like for the “common people” at a time of major upheaval (Charles I is the only English king to have been beheaded by the people). However, in attempting to display the passion and strength of feeling against the monarchy, it did become a little overbearing and wading through treacle – almost a “are we going through this conversation again?” feeling.
I did spend much of the book waiting for them to land in America – I expected this to be a book of two halves, where the second half covered the settlers trying to establish their way in Virginia, so in a way I was waiting for the departure that only came in the last few pages (so was a little disappointed that it didnt happen).
In reading other reviews it seems that majority of people seem to be raving about it. It was interesting enough to finish, but I don’t think me and the style/the pace were appropriate matches. Perhaps I’m just out of the routine of reading challenging books!