on 7 November 2013
In my almost five years of reviewing and recommending to friends, family and readers, there have been a few times, and only a few, when I have been completely and totally blown away by a book that I've read. This usually happens when there is a happy confluence of subject matter, writing prowess, research skill and character development, wrapped up in a believable, action filled story. If you haven't already guessed, The Lost Duchess, by Jenny Barden, is one of those books.
This second effort by Ms. Barden begins with the story of Emme Fifield, a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth I, who yearns to throw off the mantle of Court and live a normal life; one where marriage and children are a possibility without the Queen's interference. When her trust and naivety is brutally savaged by the erstwhile heir to the Duke of Somerset, she sees her only opportunity to forge a new life lies in joining an expedition to the Chesapeake, in the New World. She convinces the Palace to allow her to go, with the understanding that she will return with a full report on the new Colony's progress.
Christopher Doonan is an experienced mariner with a colorful and painful past. Taken by the Spanish and held in Mexico as a young man, he is sold into slavery. Rescued by Cimaroons, he becomes the leader of a pack of outlaws in Panama. When word comes to him of an English ship, he is reunited with his brother, a member of the crew, and makes his way back to England, a changed man. Drawn to the sea, he returns to the New World with Sir Francis Drake, where he acquires a page named Rob, who becomes his constant companion. "Kit" is once again set to return to the New World, as boatswain on a ship scheduled to leave England, but this time he will choose to remain as a permanent settler, for reasons he cannot yet divulge.
Kit and Emme meet at one of the Queen's audiences to fete the accomplishments of Sir Francis, and to discuss the recent and future expedition. Kit is entranced by Emme, but while Emme certainly notices him, she is intent on the seed of the plan that has already taken root in her mind.
Those familiar with American history and the nascent English settlement of the Colonies in the late 1500's know the story of the Lost Colony at Roanoke, whose original destination was actually the Chesapeake Bay area. There is no record of what happened to the 116 men, women and children who established that colony in 1587. However, Ms. Barden has an incredible knack for weaving fiction with fact. The story of the settlement is told through her characters, and the ending is one plausible explanation for what happened. She's done her research and it most definitely shows.
Descriptive passages are everywhere. Ms. Barden makes it very easy to imagine Emme's life at Court, the ocean voyage, the sights and sounds of the New World and the settlement itself.
The love story between Kit and Emme serves a dual purpose. The connection between them is sweet and beautifully written, and serves as a way to possibly define this novel as a historical romance. However, most historical romances highlight the characters' relationship, with the setting and time period secondary and as a means to an end. In fact, the setting of these novels are virtually interchangeable as long as the protagonists are together on the last page. Ms. Barden, conversely, uses her characters to highlight the setting and makes that the focal point of the story. What happens to them and where it happens is as important as who they are to each other. This is what makes this novel so very good.
The last few chapters are suspenseful, dramatic, and satisfying in their resolution. It's at this point that the pages practically turned by themselves. Revelations come fast and furious; love and life are affirmed between father and son, friends, and lovers. I did not want it to end.
The Lost Duchess, by Jenny Barden is highly recommended, and one of the best books I've read this year.
on 11 May 2014
Jenny Bardon sets a fictional tale around well researched and detailed facts of the lost Colony of Roanoke.
It is 1587, and bound for Virginia in the New World Emme Fifield, Duchess of Somerset is escaping from a scandal that threatens to ruin her. Once a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth I, she joins Kit Doonan and a ‘rag-tag band of idealists, desperados, and misfits’ along with men, women, and children to set up a colony (planters) in Virginia under Governor John White. The trip is far from easy and Emme finds her attraction to Kit inconvenient to say the least.
Living as an outlaw with a band of escaped slaves, Kit is a handsome mariner who was imprisoned for years by the Spanish and has his own demons and dark secrets to keep..
What I like about this book:
I have read and enjoyed lots of historical novels by various authors, and this book goes right to the top of my list. I found this is a most enjoyable history lesson with fast paced action and a thrilling account of what could have happened to the lost Colony of Roanoke. Using excerpts from actual accounts written at the time, Bardon embellishes what is known with exciting imagination.
I love how the book teaches political histories and events tied up into an account I found myself wishing to know more about. Our history with other nations is so important to know and should never be a chore but a pleasure to learn and Jenny Bardon has a unique way of making it important to understand.
Upon being taken to Roanoke Island instead of closer to Cheasapeke by their Spanish Pilot, Master Fernando the planters landed and set out to find the earlier abandoned fort. They had no knowledge of what to expect save a very brief account of the demise of the first settlers to the island and a set of maps.
‘The 22- We came to anchor at an Isle, called Santa Cruz, where all the planters were set on land…At our first landing on this Island, some of our women, and men, by eating a small fruit, like green apples, were fearfully troubled with a sudden burning in their mouths…
- The entry describing the first landfall after crossing the Atlantic, from John White’s Narrative of his 1587 Voyage to Virginia to which Richard Hakluyt the younger added a marginal note: ‘Circumspection to be used in strange places.’
I like the way each chapter begins with an actual account of events during that time. It reminds us of the effects of the arrogance shown by rulers and the church in history. However, there is no arrogance in the writing and description, which appears to stay close to the custom of the Elizabethan period. This can be seen in Chapter 12, Dead Men Returned, which I particularly enjoyed because it conveys so much in so few words. The chapter begins with the quote:
‘ …We had taken Menatonon prisoner, and brought his son that he best love to Roanoke..it make Ensenor’s opinion to be received again with greater respect. For he had often before told them…that we were the servants of God, and that …they amongst them that sought our destruction should find their own, and not be able to work ours, and we being dead men were able to do them more hurt … and many of them hold opinion, that we be dead men returned…’
-From Ralph Lane’s Narrative of the Settlement of Roanoke Island 1585 -6
Travelling by boat through the Weapemeocs territory Emme’s thoughts about the sounds she hears of the ‘savages’ is stunning to read:
‘How could voices travel so far? Perhaps all she was hearing was some trick of memory, a singularity filling the quietness with noise from inside her head: singing and chanting, prayer and laughter; voices from the past, some recent, some long gone; sounds of all kinds that formed part of her history…’
It continues conveying so much about the peoples of the land and their customs.
The accounts of savagery are cruel and vivid, but told with objectivity that gives the reader a chance to explore the reasoning behind the hostility to a peaceful alliance that was needed.
At the end the epilogue furnishes the answers to the known historical accounts of the events in a way that is every bit as interesting as the book itself.
There is nothing I dislike about this book.
(I received this book from NetGalley)
on 5 December 2013
Once a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth, Emme Fifield's only hope of surviving the scandal that threatens to engulf her is to escape England for a fresh start in the new America.
Emme joins Kit Doonan's rag-tag band of idealists, desperados and misfits bound for Virginia, but such a voyage will be far from easy and Emme finds her attraction to the mysterious Doonan inconvenient to say the least.
As for Kit, the handsome mariner has spent years imprisoned by the Spanish, and living as an outlaw with a band of escaped slaves; he has his own inner demons to confront, and his own dark secrets to keep...
Ever since Sir Walter Raleigh's settlement at Roanoke was abandoned in 1587 its fate has remained a mystery; The Lost Duchess explores what might have happened to the ill-starred `Lost Colony'
The group felt like they knew the characters well and could each picture them clearly in our minds highlighting how well drawn each of the characters were. The book gave a real flavour for what we can imagine that time, the Elizabethan period, could be like. I had to tell Jenny how I had to put the book down at one point where she tells how a journey by ship over rough sees is made and I could feel myself rising and pitching with the ship and could get a real idea of how that must feel. It came to light in our discussion that Jenny had been on the reconstruction of the Golden Hind in London as well as sailing so could give a real description of her own experience with a little writers magic.
Sticking with the characters the group found them believable and cared about the journey of each of them throughout the book, and we had a good discussion of one of the baddies,Ferdinando, and Jenny explained why he could be so bad but the possible reason behind it. I won't type that here and leave it to your imagination dear reader :)
What becomes clear is that this is a thoroughly well researched book that blends fact, fiction and writers magic to create a tale of wondrous excitement, adventure and emotion. Jennys dedication to getting as much historical information accurate and blending of her experiences leaves you with an enjoyable story that as a reader paints a glorious picture enabling you step back in time. You feel part of the action and carried on the journey of the main characters in the book.
Speaking of action the book begins with a particularly shocking scene which personally I found helped me to move away from the airy fairy fluff of the Queens court and straight into the action of the nitty gritty of that period.
All in all a thoroughly enjoyable book we would happily recommend to readers of historical fiction but also those with a sense of adventure!
on 22 November 2013
Upon finishing The Lost Duchess, I felt I had surfaced from an epic adventure. The book starts out with a fairly shocking scene that ensures the reader is invested in finding out what becomes of poor Emme, Queen Elizabeth I's lady-in-waiting. Volunteering herself for a dangerous expedition as a way of escaping her shame, Emme sets sail for Chesapeake in the hope of forging a colony in the New World and thus begins an action-packed tale.
I'm not particularly `up' on my history and was slightly worried about the story being set in the Elizabethan period, but I needn't have been concerned as Jenny Barden expertly guides you through the story with her beautiful and concise descriptions and explanations. I was there with the colony; I felt their fears as they struggled to make a success of their venture, and rooted for them as the natives begun to turn against them with increasing violence. The romance that blossoms from the pages was, for me, the heart of the book. I enjoyed the to and fro between Emme and Kit as they each dealt with their own baggage from the past, along with their newly found troubles in this new wild world they inhabit.
The Lost Duchess is a truly fascinating read, even more so thanks to the incredibly informative author's note at the close. If you looking for an adventurous read that will enthrall and immerse you into the story, then this is the book for you.
Reviewed by Charlotte Foreman, on behalf of BestChickLit.com
'You like to hear of the world, don't you? To learn who's doing what and why. For a young maiden you have a lively curiosity.'
Only a few pages into this novel, the above lines are used to describe Emme Fifield, and we know immediately that she desires more from her life, beyond the realms of her role as lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth, she wonders about the world that Sir Francis Drake and those who travel with him see; 'To think of such places!' she imagines, as she speaks with Lord Hertford in the opening chapter, discussing the imminent arrival of Sir Francis. Her moments spent with Lord Hertford will however take a turn for the worst and in fact increase her need to leave life at court, escaping a scandal that could ruin her.
She joins the expedition to the New World to Sir Walter Raleigh's Virginia, to found a permanent English settlement at Roanoke, travelling under another name and assuming a role beneath her previous status, with the promise to return and report back what she learns about the place to Queen Elizabeth and Sir Francis Walsingham, her chief intelligencer. However, Emme in fact intends to stay in the new colony and never return to England again, hoping the scandalous incident with Lord Hertford can thereby remain buried in the past.
She meets Kit Doonan, a mariner with Sir Francis Drake, whilst still in England, and her attraction to Kit is immediate and strong, and it is reciprocated by him. As Emme learns of the frightening experiences he has endured, being held hostage, taken prisoner, and set to work as a slave before being freed and finding his way home, her admiration for him grows:
'What must the mariner have been through: imprisoned, enslaved, outcast and then rescued as if brought back from the dead? What had he been through since? She watched him wipe the water from his mouth with the back of his hand, and pictured him in a prison cell, and then in a wilderness, and next on a rolling deck in the thick of a storm. He would have been graceful wherever he was, she decided; he did not need to drink from crystal to look like a gentleman.'
The attraction and will-they won't-they kind of tension between the pair of them simmers wonderfully before it becomes a great love, and Kit is a dashing, courageous and handsome hero to Emme's 'quick witted and stout-hearted' adventurous lady. I found both the main characters engaging. Kit is not without his own secrets, his own reasons why he so strongly wants to be part of the expedition to Virginia and to help form Governor John White's City of Raleigh, and he struggles inwardly about if and when to reveal them, and to what cost.
I loved reading this well-plotted story from start to finish, and I particularly loved the time once the settlers had arrived in what was to be their new home, and the encounters and tribulations they faced there. Jenny Barden writes wonderfully in her reimagining of what might have happened to them, and to Sir Walter Raleigh's settlement at Roanoke. The historical detail is strong and is evidence of her interest and passion for this period and these events; the author's research into this episode in history makes for an absorbing, convincing vivid depiction of the characters, the details of life at sea, the tribes, the locations. I liked the inclusion of extracts from authentic records by real figures named in the story such as John White, Ralph Lane and others at the start of the chapters.
She has combined a great cast of characters with plenty of action and tension to create an intelligent and informative read that I really enjoyed and also found absolutely fascinating. It's not an area I knew very much about at all, and it's inspired me to find out more about it. How wonderful to know for example that John White's granddaughter, Virginia Dare, whose birth I read about in the novel, really was the first English child born in North America, and to ponder the true mystery as to what happened to the colonists; it's intriguing. I loved reading the author's note at the end of the novel, and I was glad of the inclusion of the map at the beginning too, I referred to this several times as I read and enjoyed being able to do this.
The Lost Duchess begins as a novel set in the Elizabethan court, but it quickly becomes so much more; it's a marvellous historical novel of love, adventure and exploration, with excitement, danger and suspense; there is so much to enjoy in this novel, a compelling blend of fiction and fact. Emme declares: 'I want to be part of the brave adventure.' Reading The Lost Duchess was an escape, I set sail and immersed myself in a grand and momentous adventure, one I'd heartily recommend!
on 6 April 2014
If you only gave the book a cursory look you could be forgiven for thinking this one another in a long line of books set with the Tudor Court of Queen Elizabeth I but you'd only be partially right in this assumption and might be in for a surprise while reading it. Yes, it does begin in the Elizabethan court but there is much more to it than that and it's a unique tale for me, nothing that I've read before and that's something I am very thankful for.
The central character is Emme Fifield, one of the Queen's ladies in waiting and after a rather unpleasant encounter with Lord Hertford her life is turned upside down. After a chance encounter with the mysterious mariner, Kit Doonan, Emme finds herself wanting to change her life completely and to do that she needs to remove herself from the rules and restrictions placed on her by the Queen. So in an effort to do so she finds herself on a ship heading for the New World and the infamous Roanoke. Anyone who knows the history of the New World and the English colonists will know the story of the Roanoke settlement and how the colonists vanished but how do you feel about exploring one possibility to explain it?
Well you should read this then as THAT is what this book is really about, throw in a handful of romance between beautiful Emme and dashing Kit and you have a truly wonderful historical novel.... I hate to name anything I read as a romance book as I don't do romance but love historical based novels (yes, they boil down to the same thing but my brain doesn't think so, so shhhhhhh don't tell!).
Emme is a strong character but also a very soft one, she knows what she wants and needs to do to make her life the one she wants but often struggles with her own emotions and for good reason considering what has happened to her (no spoilers here!). You watch her grow into a very strong and independent women and fall deeply for the handsome Kit. Kits is a very interesting man indeed, he has the usual troubled past but it is an interesting one that I really would have liked to hear a bit more detail about but you get enough to make his back story a good one, he opens himself up to Emme but keeps getting the door slammed in his face, eventually he breaks through and the romance between them is a touching tale and one they both deserve! Other characters in the book are based on the real colonists including the first English person born in the new world, Virginia Dare (who Emme helps to bring into the world!)
This is the first novel I've read by Jenny Barden but I do find myself curious to read more as she is a wonderful talent. Saying that I might not have found her by myself so thanks to Dizzy C's Book Blog's blog review of the book back last year that bought this book and author to my attention as without you I wouldn't have requested this book from Netgalley and might have never read it! And that would have been very sad as it's a wonderful read, full of intrigue, hardship, fear, love, wonder and adventure, a truly exceptional mix of so many emotions that make for an exceptional book and one that I would recommend for anyone who likes their 'period drama' book as much as I do.
In conclusion, it may not be quite the book you expect at first glance but by the time you reach the end you really won't care as you'll have read something really classy that had put you right through the emotional wringer, wonderful, wonderful, WONDERFUL!
on 29 November 2013
I was lucky enough to receive a free copy of this book via Goodreads and am so pleased as this is an author whose work I haven't come across before. I am a great fan of historical fiction and especially the Tudor period. Set during the Court of Elizabeth 1, this is historical fiction with a difference. Incredibly well researched, the novel embraces Walter Raleigh's discovery of The New World. The settings are so well portrayed that the reader feels they are embarking on a voyage too. I was particularly drawn in by the detail and historical accuracy and found myself staying up later and later each evening to finish it- always a good sign!
I would personally have enjoyed more about life at the Elizabethan Court as this was so well evoked both at the beginning and end of the novel but this book takes on a totally new aspect of Elizabethan times as you follow the lives of the settlers in Virginia. It is astounding that a lady-in-waiting to the Queen would have been allowed to undertake such a dangerous journey yet this is based on a true story. This is a first-rate novel and certainly different to any other Tudor history I have read. I will be looking out for more from this talented writer.
on 22 August 2014
I had previously read and enjoyed Jenny Barden’s ‘Mistress of the Sea’ so I opened ‘The Lost Duchess’ with keen anticipation, and was not disappointed. The themes are similar in having a young, single, Elizabethan woman set sail for the New World, and in being both an adventure and a love story. Some characters appear in both books, but they can be read as stand-alones.
Barden has researched her subject extremely well, and has the ability to bring both people and places to life. The characters and intrigue of the Elizabethan court are well drawn, and even the secondary characters such as the inept but artistic leader of the expedition are well rounded and credible. The heroine is intelligent, resourceful, and takes charge of her own destiny, managing to engage in the action to a degree that stretches credibility a little (she is, after all, an Elizabethan gentlewoman) but this makes for a rattling good yarn.
It’s a great read for lovers of period adventures with feisty heroines. Recommended.
on 29 August 2015
I love real life puzzles, and what happened to the lost Colony of Roanoke is one of the most enigmatic. Starting with actual accounts written at the time, Jenny Barden creates a believable story to explain the abandonment of the first European settlement in Virginia.
Emme Fifield’s honour is wrecked, and travelling with mariner Kit Doonan to the “New World” is her escape from scandal and the stifling restrictions of life in the court of Elizabeth I. Both Emme’s resilience and her determination is tested time and again by the hardships of life on board ship, and the pioneer life.
Jenny Barden’s descriptive writing is wonderfully evocative, and her characters are well-drawn. I loved the descriptions of actual artwork created to record the flora and fauna of Roanoke, and this blend of the real and the imaginary, together with a satisfying love story, creates an exciting and ultimately satisfying read.
Emme Fifield is lady- in -waiting to Queen Elizabeth and as such holds a privileged position at the English court, but this protection does not extend to the capricious nature of a courtier who is hell bent on claiming Emme has his own. When personal scandal threatens to overwhelm Emme, she persuades Sir Frances Walsingham to intervene with the Queen, and gain her approval to allow Emme to sail for the New World, ostensibly to report back to the Queen on activity in one of the new world colonies, but in reality to escape public disgrace.
What then follows is a well written and beautifully researched novel, which takes the reader from the dangerous beauty of the high seas, in the company of a shabby assortment of passengers and crew, to the wild and untamed splendour of the New World, where the indigenous people are not as welcoming as was first believed. Throughout the story, and in fact what gives the book its heart and soul, is the developing relationship between Kit Doonan, a charismatic, and it must be said, handsome mariner, and Emme, whom fate seems to throw together in the most challenging of circumstances.
The story zings along at a cracking pace, there is danger, excitement, romance and deep emotion and by the clever weaving together of fact with fiction the danger of this untamed period in history comes gloriously alive. By the end of the novel, and with the wild backdrop of the New World firmly ensconced in my imagination, I felt like I had spent time in the company of a wonderful array of adventurers. When the last page was turned, I breathed a heartfelt sigh of relief, not because the story was finished, far from it, but because the book's ending was really well done.
I have no hesitation in recommending this book to lovers of well written and decisive historical fiction.