Book review: The Lost Duchess by Jenny Barden
When you find yourself in some serious bother at the perilous Tudor court, there is only one place to which you can truly escape… the New World.
Still riding high since her debut novel, Mistress of the Sea, created waves in the ocean of historical fiction, Jenny Barden sets sail again with another seafaring sizzler.
Adventure and romance provide the ballast for her thrilling stories of discovery, politics and skulduggery during the turbulent reign of Elizabeth I, and The Lost Duchess has the added ingredient of a real-life history-mystery.
In a swashbuckling story which follows the fortunes of a royal lady-in-waiting who flees court scandal for the savage wilderness of Virginia, Barden explores what might have happened to Sir Walter Raleigh’s ill-fated ‘Lost Colony’ of Roanoke.
Ninety men, 17 women and 11 children disappeared without a trace from a colony on an island near Chesapeake Bay in what is now North Carolina three years after the last shipment of supplies from England in the late 16th century. It’s a mystery that has never been solved…
Twenty-one-year-old Emme Fifield is grateful to be lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth but her royal service confines her and leaves her effectively as wed to her monarch as a nun is to the Church.
But her life takes a dangerous turn when she catches the eye of the disreputable Earl of Hertford, an incorrigible rogue and womaniser who has incurred the queen’s wrath by a series of clandestine marriages.
When he takes advantage of Emme in the most devastating way and leaves her prey to scandal, she sets sail for a new start in Virginia on the understanding that she will act as informer for the queen’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham.
Under a false name and the watchful eye of Kit Doonan, a handsome mariner whose experiences as a slave and prisoner of the Spanish have set him apart, Emme is determined to at last take control of her own life.
Working as a lady’s maid and travelling with a rag-tag band of idealists, desperados and misfits, Emme will need all her natural resolve to see her through the voyage and her unexpected attraction to Doonan.
And Doonan carries with him his own personal baggage and dark secrets… the New World will hold more surprises than just the natives.
The Lost Duchess is an exciting, exotic and tantalising tale… a rollercoaster ride to the far reaches of the New World where romance, suspense and action prove an addictive mix.
A cast of well-rounded characters – both real and fictional – play out their personal and public dramas against an epic backdrop that moves from the claustrophobic corridors of London’s palaces to the alien strangeness of Virginia.
Barden’s fascinating take on the colonial conundrum of Roanoke is both gripping and plausible and establishes this dedicated history lover as an author with her eye on the passion, the plot and the past.
(Ebury, paperback, £7.99)