Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Lost Duchess by Jenny Barden

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Author/Netgalley
Read: December 2, 2013

An epic Elizabethan adventure with a thriller pace and a high tension love story that moves from the palaces of England to the savage wilderness of the New World. Emme Fifield has fallen about as far as a gentlewoman can. Once a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth, her only hope of surviving the scandal that threatens to engulf her is to escape England for a fresh start in the new America where nobody has ever heard of the Duchess of Somerset. 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 in Virginia was abandoned in 1587 its fate has remained a mystery; 'The Lost Duchess' explores what might have happened to the ill-starred 'Lost Colony' of Roanoke.

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Baptism of Virginia Dare. Lithograph by William A. Crafts.
The Roanoke venture and the fate of the Lost Colony is an endlessly fascinating tale of courage, intrigue, and mystery in its own right, but Jenny Barden takes it one step farther, utilizing the 1587 attempt to settle the island as the backdrop of a sweeping sixteenth century romance. 

The Lost Duchess is a provocative and imaginative historical, but I was pleased to discover it is also exceedingly well-researched. Embellishing where possible, Barden is ever conscious of the history behind her work. From Raleigh's politically motivated interest in the New World to John White's desperate bid to bring relief to the ill-fated settlement, Barden took obvious care to ensure her narrative compliment the known timeline of events and as someone with a keen interest in the facts, I found her dedication to accuracy both admirable and appealing.

The originality of Barden's cast affected similar appreciation. Emme Fifield's adventurous spirit is countered by an intense vulnerability, the product of a shame she would do anything to hide. Emme, however, is not the only passenger packing secrets to the wilds of North America. Fiercely protective of his own colored history, Kit Doonan struggles to shoulder his responsibilities in the face of adversity and deny the pride that would jeopardize those closest to his heart. 

A wonderfully imagined story of adventure, conquest and rebellion, The Lost Duchess is a brilliantly evocative reimagining of one of Colonial America's most enigmatic and enduring mysteries. 

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"There will be no safe passage. You must die. All of you. We are the mighty nation of the Choanokes, the Secotans, the Weapemeocs and the Roanokes, and we will not rest until our land is cleansed of you and all invaders. For the misery you have brought us, for your lies and treachery, we give you death in return."
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Amy said...

Great review, I need to read more HF books set in America so I think I'll be checking this out. Thanks!

Jenny Barden said...

Good to hear, Amy! I'm very grateful to Flashlight Commentary for a thorough, perceptive and well structured review.