"It was imprudent of us, in the first place, to become authors. We could have become something regular, but we managed not to.
We were lucky, but we were also determined." Roy Blount Jr

"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Mistress of the Sea by Jenny Barden: A Review

This morning the temperature was minus-something Fahreinheit, and the day was advanced by the time the mercury hit 0 degrees. On these very cold and occasionally snowy days, curling up with a wonderful book is the best defence against the winter weather.

When I visited the UK in the autumn, one reason for being there was the Historical Novel Society conference. I met Jenny Barden, whose debut novel had just been published. Had I not been traipsing all round southern England at the time, I would have purchased it then and there. However, soon as I was home again I contacted Amazon UK. Writing and editing projects, NaNoWriMo, events related to the bishop transition, hosting our English guests at Christmas--for weeks Mistress of the Sea sat unread. Until last week, when a cancelled meeting provided enough time to sit and savour.

I simply couldn't put it down, and fortunately I didn't have to. So I finished it in one go, thoroughly absorbed.

Here is my review:

Mistress of the Sea
by Jenny Barden
Ebury Press, 2012
Hardcover (paperback edition not yet released)

Adventure, suspense, action, poignant loss and conflicted love--Jenny Barden's Mistress of the Sea offers all this, and more. Driven by concern for her ailing father, a disguised Ellyn Cooksley boldly stows away on Sir Francis Drake's Panama-bound vessel--also carrying her admirer Will Doonan. She leaves behind a reclusive mother, a pair of eager suitors, and all the luxuries of a Plymouth merchant's household.

Shipboard discomforts and the deprivation she experiences on a remote tropical island are only the beginning of her trials. A lone female in a very masculine environment, the resourceful Ellyn remains a woman of her time and place--though displaced in a fashion unimaginable to the average 16th century maiden. Will Doonan is on a mission of vengeance and discovery, desperate to learn the fate of his lost brother Kit. His concern and deep feelings for Ellyn are at odds with his very personal need to strike at England's great enemy.

Drake's risky attempts to seize Spanish silver and gold threaten the lives and test the loyalties of Ellyn, Will, and all the crew as they strive to outmaneuvre the Spaniards. People of the Old World and the New forge alliances, meet in battle, and constantly struggle for survival in harsh yet exotically beautiful surroundings.

Jenny Barden deserves highest praise for her historical fiction debut, intelligently and sensitively written. Readers will be eager for her next novel.

As part of the conference banquet there was a costume parade and competition. That's Jenny in her gorgeous Elizabethan gown...I'm just sorry the chairs are blocking the skirt.

Click for Mistress of the Sea on Amazon UK. I do hope there will be a US edition.

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