Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Thursday, 19 June 2014

The Lost Duchess - Jenny Barden

'You like to hear of the world, don't you? To learn who's doing what and why. For a young maiden you have a lively curiosity.'

Only a few pages into this novel, the above lines are used to describe Emme Fifield, and we know immediately that she desires more from her life, beyond the realms of her role as lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth, she wonders about the world that Sir Francis Drake and those who travel with him see; 'To think of such places!' she imagines, as she speaks with Lord Hertford in the opening chapter, discussing the imminent arrival of Sir Francis. Her moments spent with Lord Hertford will however take a turn for the worst and in fact increase her need to leave life at court, escaping a scandal that could ruin her. 

She joins the expedition to the New World to Sir Walter Raleigh's Virginia, to found a permanent English settlement at Roanoke, travelling under another name and assuming a role beneath her previous status, with the promise to return and report back what she learns about the place to Queen Elizabeth and Sir Francis Walsingham, her chief intelligencer. However, Emme in fact intends to stay in the new colony and never return to England again, hoping the scandalous incident with Lord Hertford can thereby remain buried in the past. 

She meets Kit Doonan, a mariner with Sir Francis Drake, whilst still in England, and her attraction to Kit is immediate and strong, and it is reciprocated by him. As Emme learns of the frightening experiences he has endured, being held hostage, taken prisoner, and set to work as a slave before being freed and finding his way home, her admiration for him grows:

'What must the mariner have been through: imprisoned, enslaved, outcast and then rescued as if brought back from the dead? What had he been through since? She watched him wipe the water from his mouth with the back of his hand, and pictured him in a prison cell, and then in a wilderness, and next on a rolling deck in the thick of a storm. He would have been graceful wherever he was, she decided; he did not need to drink from crystal to look like a gentleman.'

The attraction and will-they won't-they kind of tension between the pair of them simmers wonderfully before it becomes a great love, and Kit is a dashing, courageous and handsome hero to Emme's 'quick witted and stout-hearted' adventurous lady.  I found both the main characters engaging. Kit is not without his own secrets, his own reasons why he so strongly wants to be part of the expedition to Virginia and to help form Governor John White's City of Raleigh, and he struggles inwardly about if and when to reveal them, and to what cost.

I loved reading this well-plotted story from start to finish, and I particularly loved the time once the settlers had arrived in what was to be their new home, and the encounters and tribulations they faced there. Jenny Barden writes wonderfully in her reimagining of what might have happened to them, and to Sir Walter Raleigh's settlement at Roanoke. The historical detail is strong and is evidence of her interest and passion for this period and these events; the author's research into this episode in history makes for an absorbing, convincing vivid depiction of the characters, the details of life at sea, the tribes, the locations. I liked the inclusion of extracts from authentic records by real figures named in the story such as John White, Ralph Lane and others at the start of the chapters. 

She has combined a great cast of characters with plenty of action and tension to create an intelligent and informative read that I really enjoyed and also found absolutely fascinating. It's not an area I knew very much about at all, and it's inspired me to find out more about it. How wonderful to know for example that John White's granddaughter, Virginia Dare, whose birth I read about in the novel, really was the first English child born in North America, and to ponder the true mystery as to what happened to the colonists; it's intriguing. I loved reading the author's note at the end of the novel, and I was glad of the inclusion of the map at the beginning too, I referred to this several times as I read and enjoyed being able to do this.

The Lost Duchess begins as a novel set in the Elizabethan court, but it quickly becomes so much more; it's a marvellous historical novel of love, adventure and exploration, with excitement, danger and suspense; there is so much to enjoy in this novel, a compelling blend of fiction and fact. Emme declares: 'I want to be part of the brave adventure.'  Reading The Lost Duchess was an escape, I set sail and immersed myself in a grand and momentous adventure, one I'd heartily recommend!

Thank you to the author for kindly sending me a copy of this novel for an honest review as part of her Book Tour - more details below including author links.

Published by Ebury Press

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Please join author Jenny Barden as she tours the blogosphere for The Lost Duchess from May 26-June 20.

The Lost Duchess

Paperback Publication Date: June 5, 2014
Ebury Press
Paperback; 448p

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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.

Buy the Book

Amazon (AUS)
Amazon (UK)
Book Depository

About the Author

I've had a love of history and adventure ever since an encounter in infancy with a suit of armour at Tamworth Castle. Training as an artist, followed by a career as a city Jenny (Portrait 2)solicitor, did little to help displace my early dream of becoming a knight. A fascination with the Age of Discovery led to travels in South and Central America, and much of the inspiration for my debut came from retracing the footsteps of Francis Drake in Panama. The sequel centres on the first Elizabethan 'lost colony' of early Virginia. I am currently working on an epic adventure during the threat of invasion by the Spanish Armada.

My work has appeared in short story collections and anthologies and I've written for non-fiction publications including the Historical Novels Review. I am active in many organisations, having run the 'Get Writing' conferences for several years, and undertaken the co-ordination of the Historical Novel SocietyĆ­s London Conference 2012. I am a member of that organisation as well as the Historical Writers' Association, the Romantic Nevelists' Association and the Society of Authors. I'll be co-ordinating the RNA's annual conference in 2014.

I have four children and now live on a farm in Dorset with my long suffering husband and an ever increasing assortment of animals.

I love travelling, art, reading and scrambling up hills and mountains (though I'm not so keen on coming down!).

Author Links

Jenny Barden's Blog
English Historical Fiction Authors Blog

Also by Jenny Barden 

Publication Date: June 20, 2013
Ebury Press
Formats: Paperback, Ebook

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Mistress Cooksley may be a wealthy merchant's daughter, but she blushes at my words and meets my eyes look for look. Yet I cannot hope to court her without fortune, and a dalliance with a pretty maid will not hinder me from my path.

Captain Drake's endeavour might bring me gold, but I, Will Doonan, will have my revenge.

The Spaniards captured my brother and have likely tortured and killed him. For God and St George, we'll strike at the dogs and see justice done.

I thought I'd left Mistress Cooksley behind to gamble everything and follow Drake, and here she is playing the boy at the ends of the world. She's a fool with a heart as brave as any man's. Yet her presence here could be the ruin of us all...

Virtual Tour & Book Blast Schedule

Monday, May 26
Book Blast at Reading the Ages
Book Blast at Literary Chanteuse
Book Blast at Bibliophilia, Please

Tuesday, May 27
Review at A Bibliotaph's Reviews
Book Blast at Flashlight Commentary
Book Blast at To Read or Not to Read

Wednesday, May 28
Review at Carole's Ramblings and Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell

Thursday, May 29
Book Blast at The Maiden's Court
Book Blast at Cheryl's Book Nook
Book Blast at Book Reviews & More by Kathy

Friday, May 30
Review at WTF Are You Reading?
Book Blast at The Mad Reviewer
Book Blast at Curling Up by the Fire

Saturday, May 31
Book Blast at From L.A. to LA
Book Blast at Gobs and Gobs of Books

Sunday, June 1
Book Blast at Lily Pond Reads
Book Blast at So Many Books, So Little Time

Monday, June 2
Review & Giveaway at The Tudor Enthusiast
Book Blast at The Bookworm
Book Blast at CelticLady's Reviews

Tuesday, June 3
Review at Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Book Blast at West Metro Mommy
Book Blast at bookworm2bookworm's Blog

Wednesday, June 4
Review at The Wormhole
Interview at Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Book Blast at Kelsey's Book Corner

Thursday, June 5
Book Blast at Books and Benches
Book Blast at Book Lovers Paradise

Friday, June 6
Interview at Dianne Ascroft Blog
Book Blast at Kincavel Korner
Book Blast at Caroline Wilson Writes

Saturday, June 7
Book Blast at Royal Reviews
Book Blast at History Undressed

Sunday, June 8
Book Blast at Book Nerd

Monday, June 9
Review at A Chick Who Reads
Book Blast at The Musings of a Book Junkie

Tuesday, June 10
Review at She Reads Novels
Book Blast at Just One More Chapter
Book Blast at History From a Woman's Perspective

Wednesday, June 11
Review at Historical Fiction Obsession
Book Blast at Books in the Burbs

Thursday, June 12
Book Blast at Big Book, Little Book
Book Blast at Historical Fiction Notebook

Friday, June 13
Review at Susan Heim on Writing
Review at Svetlana's Reads and Views

Saturday, June 14
Book Blast at Hardcover Feedback
Book Blast at One Book at a Time

Sunday, June 15
Book Blast at Passages to the Past

Monday, June 16
Review at Layered Pages
Review at Starting Fresh
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews

Tuesday, June 17
Review at The Lit Bitch
Book Blast at Griperang's Bookmarks

Wednesday, June 18
Review & Giveaway at Luxury Reading
Book Blast at Princess of Eboli

Thursday, June 19
Review at A Bookish Affair
Review at Little Reader Library
Book Blast at Girl Lost in a Book

Friday, June 20
Review at Broken Teepee
Review at Jorie Loves a Story
Review at The Musings of ALMYBNENR
Guest Post & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair


  1. The lost colony of Roanoke is a source of endless fascination for me. Very interesting that Jenny Barden has chosen to tackle the subject through fiction.

    I assume that the book provides an explanation as to the colony's fate.

    1. Thanks for your comment Brian, I wish I'd known more about this before, it really is fascinating, and I'm so glad that via this novel I've learnt a little about it. Yes, the author provides a possible outcome as to what could have happened.

  2. This sounds like a really great read. I'm familiar with the history and some of the speculation of Roanoke and we've visited the area few times. It sounds like this would be a lot of fun to read. Thanks for sharing! I hadn't come across this book before.


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