Jenny Bardon sets a fictional tale around well researched and detailed facts of the lost Colony of Roanoke.

It is 1587, and bound for Virginia in the New World Emme Fifield, Duchess of Somerset is escaping from a scandal that threatens to ruin her.  Once a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth I, she joins Kit Doonan and a ‘rag-tag band of idealists, desperados, and misfits’ along with men, women, and children to set up a colony (planters) in Virginia under Governor John White.  The trip is far from easy and Emme finds her attraction to Kit inconvenient to say the least.

Living as an outlaw with a band of escaped slaves, Kit is a handsome mariner who was imprisoned for years by the Spanish and has his own demons and dark secrets to keep..

What I like about this book

I have read and enjoyed lots of historical novels by various authors, and this book goes right to the top of my list. I found this is a most enjoyable history lesson with fast paced action and a thrilling account of what could have happened to the lost Colony of Roanoke. Using excerpts from actual accounts written at the time, Bardon embellishes what is known with exciting imagination.

I love how the book teaches political histories and events tied up into an account I found myself wishing to know more about. Our history with other nations is so important to know and should never be a chore but a pleasure to learn and Jenny Bardon has a unique way of making it important to understand.

Upon being taken to Roanoke Island instead of closer to Cheasapeke by their Spanish Pilot, Master Fernando the planters landed and set out to find the earlier abandoned fort. They had no knowledge of what to expect save a very brief account of the demise of the first settlers to the island and a set of maps.

‘The 22- We came to anchor at an Isle, called Santa Cruz, where all the planters were set on land…At our first landing on this Island, some of our women, and men, by eating a small fruit, like green apples, were fearfully troubled with a sudden burning in their mouths…’

– The entry describing the first landfall after crossing the Atlantic, from John White’s Narrative of his 1587 Voyage to Virginia to which Richard Hakluyt the younger added a marginal note:  ‘Circumspection to be used in strange places.’

I like the way each chapter begins with an actual account of events during that time. It reminds us of the effects of the arrogance shown by rulers and the church in history. However, there is no arrogance in the writing and description, which appears to stay close to the custom of the Elizabethan period. This can be seen in Chapter 12, Dead Men Returned, which I particularly enjoyed because it conveys so much in so few words. The chapter begins with the quote:

‘ …We had taken Menatonon prisoner, and brought his son that he best love to make Ensenor’s opinion to be received again with greater respect. For he had often before told them…that we were the servants of God, and that …they amongst them that sought our destruction should find their own, and not be able to work ours, and we being dead men were able to do them more hurt … and many of them hold opinion, that we be dead men returned…’

-From Ralph Lane’s Narrative of the Settlement of Roanoke Island 1585 -6

Travelling by boat through the Weapemeocs territory Emme’s thoughts about the sounds she hears of the ‘savages’ is stunning to read:

‘How could voices travel so far? Perhaps all she was hearing was some trick of memory, a singularity filling the quietness with noise from inside her head: singing and chanting, prayer and laughter; voices from the past, some recent, some long gone; sounds of all kinds that formed part of her history…

It continues conveying so much about the peoples of the land and their customs.  The accounts of savagery are cruel and vivid, but told with objectivity that gives the reader a chance to explore the reasoning behind the hostility to a peaceful alliance that was needed.

At the end the epilogue furnishes the answers to the known historical accounts of the events in a way that is every bit as interesting as the book itself.

There is nothing I dislike about this book.


My thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book in return for an honest review

SBN:  9780091949235

Published:   Nov 7 2013

Publisher: Random House UK, Ebury Publishing