Author Jenny Barden brings a novel that reaches new heights from those of the Tudor dynasty stories in the descriptions, narratives, and themes that typically depict life during the reigns of King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I. A novel of passion, intrigue, deception, loyalty, and bravery, The Lost Duchess is not a novel to be missed because it holds dear all the themes that readers of Tudor novels have come to expect from their authors but also because it explores a new story of savagery and danger.
The Lost Duchess details the adventures, misfortunes, and palace intrigue for a group of characters in the charge of Queen Elizabeth I, who under the guidance of Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake sends these characters to the soon-to-be colony of Roanoke (Virginia). Barden begins and ends her novel in the various palaces of the Tudor court, but the crux of the novel is set amongst Roanoke and its surrounding Native American settlements and villages. Lady-in-waiting Emme Fifield and mariner Christopher (Kit) Noonan take center stage in Barden’s story, along with a band of other government leaders, Planters (colonists), and Native Americans. Emme, Kit, and the Planters seek to begin an English colony in Chesapeake Bay; however, for numerous reasons—including a deceptive captain—the crew lands in Roanoke. Barden’s novel, at this point, turns from lightly historical to thorough and rich in its descriptions of survival in the New World. The author discusses these challenges within the context of her character’s fighting and discovering how to live peacefully with the Native Americans. Death, murder, poison, rape, and physical violence are commonplace in The Lost Duchess. Readers should prepare themselves for graphic scenes before reading this novel. The descriptive scenes bring authenticity to the novel and enrich readers’ interpretation of the time period; Barden’s decision to write these scenes should be praised because life in the early colonies was not as rosy at Disney depicted the scenes in its movie musical, Pocahontas.
The novel’s themes overarch amongst different facets of the characters’ lives: love for others and country, revenge for misdoings and for wrongs taken against them, loyalty and honor for country and for personal gain during a dangerous undertaking, and lies versus truth for the betterment of family and marriage. Barden’s novel is certainly one of adventure and love, but ultimately the author’s work is a story of her characters’ personal growth and maturation amongst challenges of war, political scandal, physical hardships, and harsh landscapes.
For all of the majesty and authenticity of the novel, The Lost Duchess does have points that need strengthening: the love story between Kit and Emme, for example, definitely could be fleshed out to include better understanding of the characters. Aside from the fact that Emme and Kit are among the few male and female characters to spend time together in the novel—and therefore conclude the probability of their romance—their relationship lacks in-depth; there is little reasoning for their falling for each other, and Barden takes the characters’ adoration for each other too high to be realistic. The pacing of the The Lost Duchess is slow, especially in the first half of the novel. Out of the four-hundred-plus pages of the novel, the first hundred-plus detail Emme’s life and court and her fight to be allowed to sail to the New World. This part of the story is necessary to plot development but could be cut down to allow the pacing to pick up speed.
The Lost Duchess is an engaging read; Barden’s prose is beautiful, her descriptions vivid, her characterization strong, her research thorough, and her dialog appropriate for the time period. This is a novel that any reader of historical fiction should have on their bookshelf.
Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Review originally posted on June 18th, 2014 at LuxuryReading.com