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on 22 October 2012
From the very first image on page one of Mistress of the Sea I knew that I would love the writing in this Elizabethan adventure. 'The chill was enough to hurry everything along, as if the season was already sliding over ice.' We are off and moving back into Elizabethan England in the period of Shakespeare, Drake and Raleigh. This novel is suffused with constant movement. From the shores of Devon to the New World the reader travels with Sir Francis Drake, the sea rolling the ships, the sails catching the wind, to Spanish forts on the rim of the Caribbean, to islands and forests inhabited by the Cimaroons. We voyage with Will a strong and attractive seafaring hero and, importantly, Ellyn an adventurous and very courageous heroine, a merchant's daughter betrothed, of course, to another. Ellyn, concerned for her father heads for the New World on Drake's galleon. The mistress of the sea is more than a little in love with Will and, disguised, Ellyn sets sail for the New World with a crew who are determined to captured Spanish gold. Will, however, has another quest and Ellyn's fate is determined by this, by Drake's ruthlessness and by her devotion to her difficult but likeable father. Mistress of the Sea is a beautiful novel, refreshing after so many stories of the queens of this period. This book has the feel of adventure, the smell of the ocean, is pacy and moreover is superbly researched and carefully written with attention to small fascinating details. Every eloquent chapter has a tiny paratext extracted from literature of this era, the language is accessible, the characters engaging and most of all we, the readers, want to turn the pages.
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on 7 October 2012
Mistress Of The Sea is an intriguing, intelligent read set in the Elizabethan age of exploration and sea-faring. It's obvious from the outset that this novel has been meticulously researched because vivid, historical details underpin every page. However, the history is written with a very subtle hand and it never once overpowers the narrative, even though it contains charismatic, real-life characters like Sir Francis Drake. It takes an expert author to combine history, adventure, romance and fast-paced storytelling, and Jenny Barden gets the balance exactly right.

This sweeping novel brings together all the best elements of historical writing and breathes new life into the craft of epic storytelling. Sharply-drawn, credible characters, perilous adventure, exotic locations and the skilful blending of fact with fiction, make Mistress Of The Sea a real page turner. By interweaving several narratives, the author ensures the momentum is never lost as the plot races to the exciting climax that keeps readers guessing all the way.

It's a long time since I read a book that satisfies on so many levels and I was glad to learn that the author is intending to revisit this period in the future. Mistress Of The Sea updates the Tudor world recreated in Philippa Gregory's novels, and explores the Elizabethan era with imagination, historical accuracy and compelling narrative. An irresistible combination for any lover of good quality, historical fiction.
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on 1 December 2012
Mistress of the Sea is a real, old fashioned swash-buckler of a novel that will appeal to all readers. Its is a story that harks back to the very start of the Golden Age of Discovery and the author has weaved a marvelous work of fiction around a very well-known historical figure and his "antics".

Sir Francis Drake was both hero and villain to England and Jenny Barden creates characters that explore the most pertinent questions about his intentions as well as crafting a story that is strong and set apart from Drake's own. It is, essentially, a love story. But not only about the love between hero & heroine but the love of family, the love of humanity and, ultimately, the realisation and acceptance of the price each of us must pay to find happiness.

This is a rip-roaring story where heroes are crafted in the spirit of Errol Flynn & the heroine could be Olivia de Haviland. Jenny Barden writes scenes that you picture in your mind just like the films of yore where dashing heroes fight with dark, brooding enemies in order to win the heart of the maiden in distress. All in all this is a very good debut novel by an author who has a talent for creating exciting, vibrant stories.
I give MISTRESS OF THE SEA 5 Crosses!

(I edited my review because I believe Mistress of the sea genuinely deserves a 5 star rating)
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on 21 November 2012
This novel was exciting above all. I was gripped from the very first paragraphs and I kept snatching minutes whenever I could to get back to it. I liked the way the heroine evolved, who I wasn't so keen on at first but then became a wonderful, brave character. The hero was fantastic, with his internal issues, sense of loyalty and handsome face. I liked the way he didn't act as I'd expected him to. It was great to read a novel with Francis Drake and his adventures as the backdrop, especially as you could see that the author depicted a true version of him and had done her research. I found it refreshing and it has piked my interest in that period. This book was surprising, exciting, illustrative and romantic. It is an exceptional début novel and I hope there's more to come.
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on 20 January 2013
Adventure, suspense, action, poignant loss and conflicted love--Jenny Barden's Mistress of the Sea offers all this, and more. Driven by concern for her ailing father, a disguised Ellyn Cooksley boldly stows away on Sir Francis Drake's Panama-bound vessel--also carrying her admirer Will Doonan. She leaves behind a reclusive mother, a pair of eager suitors, and all the luxuries of a Plymouth merchant's household.

Shipboard discomforts and the deprivation she experiences on a remote tropical island are only the beginning of her trials. A lone female in a very masculine environment, the resourceful Ellyn remains a woman of her time and place--though displaced in a fashion unimaginable to the average 16th century maiden. Will Doonan is on a mission of vengeance and discovery, desperate to learn the fate of his lost brother Kit. His concern and deep feelings for Ellyn are at odds with his very personal need to strike at England's great enemy.

Drake's risky attempts to seize Spanish silver and gold threaten the lives and test the loyalties of Ellyn, Will, and all the crew as they strive to outmaneuvre the Spaniards. People of the Old World and the New forge alliances, meet in battle, and constantly struggle for survival in harsh yet exotically beautiful surroundings.

Jenny Barden deserves highest praise for her historical fiction debut, intelligently and sensitively written. Readers will be eager for her next novel.

Margaret Evans Porter
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on 6 January 2013
I essentially devoured this book in two sessions. I'd broken my foot, was in a lot of discomfort and was in dire need of some pure escapism - and "Mistress of the Sea" did the trick.

It may be set in Tudor times, but this is not your typical Tudor novel. If you read historical fiction to learn something whilst being taken on a fun journey, then this should tick all the boxes for you. It's pure adventure on the high seas and romance rolled into one, but it's also an insight into a relatively unknown aspect of Sir Francis Drake's ventures in the New World.

And can I say that the opening scene of the book is one of the most gripping and unusual I've ever come across? As soon as you read that, you know you're in a safe pair of hands. I won't give anything away - you'll have to read it yourself, but I promise you your heart will soon be in your mouth...
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on 28 September 2012
From the vivid opening scenes of bear baiting, the reader is transported into an Elizabethan England far from the usual Court locations and characters. The initial setting for Mistress of the Sea is Plymouth and soon moves to the dangers of the exotic New World where the ruthless Spaniards and inhospitable terrain taunt Will Doonan, Ellyn Cooksley, Francis Drake and the rest of the privateers.

Jenny Barden captures all the smells, sights, sounds and customs of sixteenth century life with consummate skill. This, combined with the heart-stopping action of the battle and torture scenes and the wiil-they-won't-they love story between Will and Ellyn bought this epic tale to life and I didn't want it to end. Even though I have read this book in its earlier drafts (something I only do if the story is worth it), I couldn't put it down. A book to buy and treasure.
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on 25 October 2013
As much adventure book as romance, Mistress of the Sea still manages to keep the romance reader engaged as you follow the blossoming relationship between wealthy merchant's daughter Ellyn Cooksley and master caulker Will Doonan. It's a tale of swashbuckling adventure that brings in Spanish gold, privateers, escaped slaves and even the legendary Sir Frances Drake.

Set in 1570, Ellyn is a young woman mourning the loss of her brother and fending off the unwelcome advances of a pair of `suitable suitors' - wealthy merchants who offer a good financial match, arranged by her father - when she falls for Will, her handsome, confident and rugged young neighbour; a man who is unsuitable due to both his lowly status and his reputation as an adventurer.

Will, in the meantime, is driven by two great passions: the need to get revenge on the Spanish for the betrayal that led to the capture and supposed murder of his brother, Kit, and also in acquiring as much Spanish treasure as he can. At first he courts Ellyn's attention as a game, but soon he finds himself genuinely attracted to her, giving him an additional reason to seek wealth.

When Will persuades Ellyn's father to fund Drake's next voyage to the Americas, the old man insists on accompanying them. Ellyn, fearful for her father's wellbeing and unhappy with the match that her father has made for her, disguises herself as a boy and stows away on board the ship. This starts a chain of events that leads to both adventure and romance.

Nothing in her upbringing had prepared her for the predicament she faced: the isolation and disorientation, and the relentless physical discomfort. Her original, rather nebulous plan had been to play the role of galley boy who might be accepted as useful before a joyous revelation. But the viciousness of the mariner had shattered that fantasy. She was ruled by terror: the dread of brutality should she be discovered, and the fear of condemnation should she make herself known - she could barely conceive of her father's wrath on finding out she had stowed aboard the Swan.

Mistress of the Sea is a great book. Jenny Barden has done her research well to bring both the characters and their world to life. The story draws you in, even as it jumps from ship, to the Caribbean and back to 16th-century Plymouth. The characters are well-rounded and realistic - you never feel frustration that the leads are acting unrealistically, something that mars some romantic novels. The descriptive writing is excellent, whether describing domestic life in a merchant's household or Drake's bloody raid on Nombre de Dios; yet without the reader needing a degree in history to understand what is going on. Finally, the mix of romance and adventure is pitched so well that whichever attracts you most to this book, you do not feel disappointed.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. And I would highly recommend it if you are looking for something a bit different from your usual romance read.
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Mistress of the Sea is set in 1570 against the background of Elizabethan England when glorious sea voyages led to the allure of prosperity, and the magnetism of inscrutable sea captains gave the illusion that foreign wealth was there for the taking. Abandoning her mother, two enthusiastic suitors and a wealthy home amongst the merchant class of the port of Plymouth, Ellyn Cooksley stows away on board Drake's ship bound for Panama. But also onboard Drake's ship, The Swan, is Ellyn's sickly father and Ellyn's erstwhile admirer, Will Doonan, whose primary reason for the voyage is to avenge the fate of his lost brother Kit. However, Will is horrified when the stowaway is revealed and this knowledge will put his loyalty to the test, not just to Ellyn and her father, but also to his sea captain.

Taking as her inspiration, Sir Francis Drake's first great endeavour, the attack on the Spanish 'Silver Train' in Panama, the author has weaved together a story which abounds with nautical intrigue and with meticulous care and research has produced a realistic historical adventure, complete with rollicking high seas, the lure of Spanish bounty and a frisson of romance.

Nicely written and with an obvious fine eye for historical accuracy, this is a commendable debut novel and the launch of a new talent in historical fiction.
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on 22 September 2013
I really enjoyed the story which wove a romantic tale around Sir Francis Drake's American exploits which were well documented at the time by English and Spanish sources. However I thought that the title was definitely designed to imply a very different sort of story!

Spoiler alert ....

Since the heroine of the story remains chaste as the driven snow throughout and is never in a position of authority while at sea......in fact her time on board is almost incidental to the story except as a means of getting her to America and back.... I felt the title was a tad disingenuous.

Nevertheless my first impressions stand: a lovely addition to the historical fiction genre exploring events which were clearly already very dramatic and exciting presenting the little known but exciting facts with a light fictional gloss. Barden has done her research thoroughly and signposts the interested reader to a wide range of further reading.
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