on 16 January 2014
Divided Inheritance is a fabulous read. Deborah Swift's other two novels set in the seventeenth century, The Lady's Slipper and The Gilded Lily, are thoroughly enjoyable books, well-plotted with depth of characterisation. A Divided Inheritance is, without doubt, the most sophisticated work of the three novels and a brilliant achievement. An excellent historical novel owns two elements: the total immersion of a reader into a previous historical era and engaging characterisation. With A Divided Inheritance, Deborah Swift succeeds on both counts.
The story is set during the early years of the reign of James 1st , opening in London to a background of trade and religious tension following the late Elizabethan period and The Gunpowder Plot. Elspet Leviston hopes to inherit her father's London lace business but is thwarted by the arrival of a lost cousin. As a consequence her inheritance will be divided. Zachary Deane has a disreputable background, yet despite his shadowy past, her father draws him into their pleasant London home and his business. To Elspet's chagrin he sends this mysterious cousin on a grand tour to look for new markets and to knock off his rough edges.
Elspet is a devout English Catholic, intrepid, and not deterred by obstacles, she takes on a terrifying sea and land journey into Spain, a country in the grip of Inquisition, in search of Zachary after her father's sudden demise. The journey to Seville sets in motion intriguing events as the two protagonists become locked in a battle of wills, involved in a school for training swordsmen and in the expulsion of a persecuted people, the Morisco population of Andulusia, one often composed of baptised Christians . The expulsion is a very moving aspect of this novel's plot, superb in its depiction and integration into the novel's overall narrative drive, also providing the story's sub plot.
At the heart of the novel is character. Even minor characters are extraordinarily well developed and, of course, the protagonists are particularly rich depictions. Elspet is plucky and determined but she is also a prim Jacobean lady who early in the book faces several disappointments. She is a heroine rooted in her time yet propelled by circumstances into situations which permit her ultimate self-discovery. Vividly portrayed she leaps off the page in her farthingales, laced bodices, her desire to visit every Spanish church on the route across this arid, dangerous country, her ability to stay her post under a relentless sun, whilst waiting for the difficult retrograde, Zachary, each day, as he learns skills of the sword. She is indomitable and will confront him. Zachary Deane is a man of the sword, an ultimately likeable ne'er do well. Can he meet the challenge the story's terrible events present and gain redemption? As for all the personalities in between- they successfully respectively aid or hinder the story's development. All of them provide a convincing and engaging gallery of characters whose destinies we care about.
This novel must be praised for Deborah Swift's attention to research and her translation of this into brilliant characterisation, scintillating dialogue and a thrilling narrative. Her research, though impeccable and thorough, never shows. The scenes set in a Spanish sword school and amongst the Morisco community are vibrant. I was there participating in Elspet's and Zachary's story lives, fighting with sword, trudging Seville's narrow streets, watching their romances develop and the threats to their survival. A Divided Inheritance is a terrific historical novel; one which on reaching the last page I was reluctant to put down. I hope it provides other readers with an equally delectable sense of enjoyment. It comes highly recommended.
on 18 October 2013
The best historical novels give the reader a sense either of immersion in another time and/or place. A Divided Inheritance provides both: Swift's historical understanding of the Moorish expulsion from Spain is compelling and dramatic and her depiction of the fencing school was appropriately deft. Elspeth's voyage from London to Seville is more than a geographical one--we see her grow and develop.
The early seventeenth century in England has perhaps been overlooked in fiction in favour of the earlier Tudors and the later convulsions of the Civil War. It is refreshing to discover more about the London of the early Jacobean period and the industries sustaining the country.
Pay attention to the sword on the back cover (if you can see it in the Kindle version)as this accurately indicates that A DIVIDED INHERITANCE is not solely a 'women's' historical fiction read.
What a story! A masterpiece indeed.
A Divided Inheritance starts off in London, where Elspet Leviston finds herself usurped in her father's eyes by the appearance, out of nowhere, of her cousin, Zachary Deane. The story travels to Spain in the time when Muslims were being persecuted and driven out of their country, not a period of history I knew anything about, though this didn't matter as I soon picked up exactly what was going on; however, there's a brief history at the back of the book that you might like to read first.
There were so many elements about this story that I loved, not least of all Deborah Swift's clearly intricate research and wonderful storytelling capability. It's got the lot: the bleakness of life for a young woman in the slightly impoverished middle classes, the marriage forced on her for business expansion, followed by Elspet's personal growth when she is thrown outside her secure, limited existence, tested in ways that make her alter her entire outlook on life. The story takes the reader from the dark alleys of London to the bright colour of 17th century Seville, and I loved the multi-faceted Zachary, in many ways the villain of the tale but so beautifully painted that I rooted for him throughout.
With lost love, double dealing, desperate flight in terrible circumstances and the horror of religious persecution, this is terrific, unusual novel that I think puts Deborah Swift right up there with the best and well known historical fiction writers. Highly, highly recommended.
on 3 December 2013
This 3rd novel by Deborah Swift is the best yet. The pace moves you on and the characters draw you into the story. It gives you a fascinating view of 17th Century Spain and England and the intriguing schools of swordsmanship that grew up across Europe. This is a great read which is literally difficult to put down - thoroughly recommended.
on 4 December 2013
Ms Swift's third book is by far the best, which is certainly saying something as the first two were crackers. A combination of a fast paced plot and engaging characters makes Divided Inheritance un-putdownable. The historical detail is slipped into each scene naturally so as not to intrude on the action and as always, you experienced Jacobean London rather than read about it. Fantastic and I look forward to Ms Swifts the next book with eagerness.
on 21 December 2013
The bare textbook statement that "The Moriscos were expelled from Spain in 1609" has now been brought to life for me. Paradoxically, the tragedy does not destroy the magic of Spain or the aura of the Golden Age; it enhances its brilliance with sinister contrast.
Other plusses for Deborah Swift's book:
The characters, especially the two main ones, are unpredictable, real people, who grow during the story; the ending is not obviously forseeable; the insights into the art of swordsmanship are fascinating.
Author of "The Slant", "The Drop" and "Valeddom - Mercury Awaits"
on 27 July 2014
Why am I not seeing this book piled high in bookshops? It's easily the equal of historical novels that are flying off the shelves at the moment and garnering all sorts of praise. Maybe it's the cover - it's certainly unrepresentative of what's inside. Where do we get the impression of how swashbuckling this novel is, how it's going to sweep you to the heat and sun-bleached colours of seventeenth century Spain, how it's going to take you into the equally intriguing world of the elite swordsmen of Seville and its Morisco - its converted Muslim - population?
There is so much to like about this book, especially once Elspet manages to escape from the stultifying confines of a woman's life in seventeenth century London for the wonders of Spain. Expectations are subverted very neatly and, without breaking faith with the reader, Deborah Swift takes her narrative in directions we might not have predicted.
To really succeed a historical novel needs two things, for me: a narrative voice that manages to suggest the period without descending into pastiche and characters who are of their time. Deborah Swift excels in both these areas. Add to that historical details which don't overwhelm the reader but support the understanding of the world being created and this is a book to be relished.
on 25 October 2013
The novel is set in London in 1609 for the first part of the book; it opens with introducing us to Magdalena and her sons; she is dying and is concerned for her sons future in particular her son Zachary. The older two brothers are spiteful to Zachary and Magdalena is worried that when she dies he will not be able to care for himself like the others or worse end up in trouble. When Magdalena dies she instructs Zachary to seek out his real father to take care of him.
We then switch to the Leviston family who own a Lace business run by Nathaniel Leviston and assisted by his daughter Elspet. Nathaniel's wife is dead and Elspet is his only child who runs the home and helps with the business much like a son might have done had he had one.
The business occupies much of Elspet's time but she loves being involved and being close to her father. Quite out of the blue Zachary arrives who Nathaniel says is his sisters child, she has died and he is going to take him in. Elspet is suspicious of Zachary from the start and is concerned that her father has never mentioned him before, however she has no control over the situation and has to accept his presence. It's not long before Nathaniel is involving him more and more in the business but Elspet knows he has no real interest in it, he is always getting into fights and causing concern. Because of this she suggests he is educated more into the business and Nathaniel hits on the idea of sending him on a grand tour overseas away from the distractions of London.
Deborah Swift has great descriptive abilities, she is wonderful at creating the scene and the feel for Jacobean London and that of her characters. She expertly weaves the plot together introducing characters as she goes along that fall seamlessly into the story. Not to give too much away Elspet is forced to follow Zachary when her father dies and she realises he is her brother who has been given half her inheritance and she learns he wants to sell the business.
She takes her maid Martha and Wilmot her fathers business manager with her to Spain to track him down and make him change his mind about selling the business. She has her own private battle of wills with Zachary but that period of time in Spain was a dangerous place to be and quickly she realises that there are more important things happening around her than her own troubles which force her and Zachary closer together.
I will not spoil the story by revealing the end suffice it to say that it is rather more unexpected than the reader would have predicted.
A good read with good historical references, believable characters and the need to carry on to the end to find out what happens to them all.
I would not have picked a historical novel to read but this has made me want to read more of Deborah Swifts work, so enjoyable. I would rate this book as a 5 star definitely one of the best in this genre that I have read.
on 8 October 2013
Readers of Deborah Swift's first two novels The Lady's Slipper and The Gilded Lily will have high expectations of her latest book - and they will not be disappointed. A Divided Inheritance is simply outstanding - the richness of the characterisation, the detailed and richly evocative picture of early 17th century London and Spain, make this a novel to be treasured. The plot strand about the expulsion of the Moriscos from Spain is one rarely covered in historical fiction, and is shown here with heartbreaking intensity, and the scenes in the Spanish fencing school are a delight.
Reviewers have compared Deborah Swift's work to Philippa Gregory, and it would be well deserved if she were to enjoy similar success.
For many years my favourite historical novel has been Sharon Penman's The Sunne in Splendour; A Divided Inheritance deserves to be mentioned in the same breath.
on 30 October 2013
This is one of those novels which, as well as having a pacey storyline and complex and intriguing characters, is packed with fascinating historical fact. In less skilful hands, this can sometimes make for difficult reading, but Deborah Swift's stories always wear their research lightly. This book is no exception. I found out so much that I didn't know - about sword-fighting and Spain and the terrible excesses of the inquisition (her depiction of the expulsion of the Moriscos is really shocking at times), but for me, the overriding drive of the book is the antagonism between Elspet and Zachary and the unexpected inheritance which both unites and divides them. The gorgeous setting of heat-bound Seville is compelling; the plot moves as swiftly as Zachary's newly-forged sword, and with as much courage and verve.