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5.0 out of 5 stars
A Divided Inheritance
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on 18 September 2017
This is the story of two people, Elspet Leviston, responsible daughter of a lace dealer in Jacobean London and Zachary Deane, the illegitimate son of a poor Spanish woman whose bullying brothers have taught him to lie and steal. When Elspet’s father suddenly brings Zachary into their household, usurping her position in the family business, she is horrified and as a dutiful daughter considers marriage to an apparently pleasant suitor. Her relief when Zachary sets off on a grand tour is swiftly removed on her father’s sudden death and her world turns upside down when she hears the conditions of his will.

From the calm everyday life in London, where only the need to conceal their Catholic faith disturbs them, Elspet sets out across Europe to find Zachary and sort out her future. Meanwhile, Zachary is discovering his true purpose in life, studying with Senor Alvarez, a Master of Fencing. It is difficult to like Zachary at first but easy to understand him and as the plot develops so does his character. Elspet also changes when she reaches Spain. Her circumstances deteriorate and her way of life is completely different but the charismatic Senor Alvarez also guides her future. And then she and Zachary find themselves caught up in the terrible expulsion of the Moriscos, the Moors who had settled in Seville.

Deborah Swift’s historical research is impeccable, grounding this unusual story in the troubled world of early 17th century Spain and questioning the role of women and the place of religion in society but this is not a learned tome. It is an exciting, passionate story, full of vibrant, realistic characters and thrilling events. I could not put this book down!
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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.
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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.
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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.

Robert Gibson
Author of "The Slant", "The Drop" and "Valeddom - Mercury Awaits"
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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.
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on 25 February 2015
This is the third of Deborah Swift's books I have read. Deborah has a canny knack of painting pictures with words and, reading A Divided Inheritance, I found myself completely absorbed in the atmosphere of both London and Seville. Her characters, though not always likable, defy you to be "on their side". There is nothing sentimental about this book, these characters could be your ancestors! Give this book a read, you won't be disappointed.
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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.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 6 April 2015
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.
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on 23 August 2015
What an epic! I enjoyed this from the very beginning. Particularly liked the aspect of a smart young woman trying to respect the repressive culture in which she is maturing, yet bridling at it. She senses there's more to life than running a house, and she has a head for business and even adventure, as she discovers later. The author, Deborah Swift, hints at this:

"A sensation of longing filled her chest, so strong that it made her want to stretch out to claw back that brief light (of a shooting star). It was a longing for home, but not a country to travel to, no, not that. Rather, some country deep inside herself." What thinking person hasn't felt this way at some point in life?

It's stunning how much research Swift must have done in order to include the historic details of London and Spain in the early 1600s. Good pacing, rich characters and settings, an undercurrent of feminism, and a good developmental arc for the two main characters. This is a coming of age story for the young man and woman, Zachary and Elspet, respectively, and also an exploration of an historic event based on a clash of cultures and religious intolerance. A very satisfying read.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 27 November 2013
London 1609...

A Divided Inheritance is set initially in Jacobean England when distrust of family, neighbour and friend had reached its zenith. Religious persecution was rife throughout Europe and in England hidey holes for Catholic priests could be found in the most illicit of places. Helping to run the family lace business with her father, Nathaniel, Elspet Leviston's life is about to be turned completely upside down by the arrival of her mysterious cousin Zachary Deane who has his own ideas for the family business. When Nathaniel dies unexpectedly, Elspet and Zachary are forced into a battle of will to determine which of them will have the inheritance of Leviston's Lace. However, Zachary has disappeared into Spain, and Elspet has only a limited amount of time to track him down, before she risks losing everything she and her father worked so hard to attain.

As with Deborah Swift's previous novels, the research and fine attention to detail is impeccable. The Jacobean world is revealed as a scheming hotchpotch of family rivalry and religious persecution which takes the reader from the stark and drear world of Jacobean London, through to the sweltering heat and colour of Catholic Spain, when the inquisition lingered on corners and the dreadful expulsion of Muslims forced families apart in the most horrendous of circumstances.

Initially, the book appears to get off to a slow start with little seeming to happen, but then about a third of the way into the story, and particularly when the focus shifts to Spain, the narration becomes livelier. The strength of the story telling and the vivid imagery of seventeenth century Seville is quite compelling. The day to day life in Spain made for fascinating reading; I especially liked the revealing of intricate details of swordsmanship at the fencing school.

European history and particularly Spanish history is not an area I am familiar with, so to have a story which seeks to shed light on some of the more disturbing events that happened in seventeenth century Spain, whilst at the time keeping control of an intricate and complex family drama, made this an enjoyable and fascinating read.

I am sure that fans of well written and factually accurate historical fiction will love it as much as I did.
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