Book review: A Divided Inheritance by Deborah Swift
Historical novelist Deborah Swift likes nothing better than to surprise her readers so expect the unexpected in her new swashbuckling adventure.
Swift, who lives at Warton, near Carnforth, found inspiration in the fields and fells of her local landscape for The Lady’s Slipper, her first novel set in post-Civil War Westmorland, while last year’s follow-up, The Gilded Lily, took us to the seedy streets of Restoration London.
A Divided Inheritance whisks us even further back to the 17th century Jacobean period, a fascinating and turbulent age which witnessed religious and political unrest both at home and abroad.
At the heart of the story are two young people torn apart by family divisions but united in a struggle which will take them from the bleak back alleys of London to the heat and bustle of Golden Age Seville in Spain.
In a gripping, action-packed story that blends drama, suspense and romance, Swift digs deep into a little known corner of history to bring us a fresh and emotive perspective on events that helped to shape people and nations.
In 1609, King Philip III of Spain decreed the Expulsion of the Moriscos from his country. The Moriscos were the descendants of the Muslim population who had converted to Christianity under threat of exile 100 years earlier.
Under suspicion and forced out into Muslim North Africa, the Moriscos were only allowed to keep what money and possessions they could carry and the rest, including their property, was impounded.
Into this maelstrom of unrest steps Zachary Deane, a mysterious young man whose fortunes change when he is taken under the wing of his uncle Nathaniel Leviston, a closet Catholic and a wealthy and successful London lace maker.
The unexpected arrival of an unknown cousin is not welcomed by Nathaniel’s only child Elspet who puts all her energies into her father’s dealings and whose greatest ambition has been to continue the success of his business.
Elspet’s dreams are thrown into turmoil when she discovers that Zachary has not only usurped her place in her father’s affections but become Nathaniel’s business confidant and partner.
But Zachary is impatient, impulsive, an inveterate gambler and a dedicated swordsman with a secret past that seems to invite trouble so Nathaniel sends him on a Grand Tour of Europe, away from the hedonistic distractions of London.
At long last, Elspet is free of her hot-headed cousin but when Nathaniel dies suddenly, she discovers that her father has left the family home to Zachary and divided his estate between the two of them.
Forced to leave England and go in search of Zachary and claim back from him the inheritance that is rightfully hers, she finds him under the searing Spanish sun where he is putting down roots and learning to become a master swordsman.
Elspet and Zachary become locked in a battle of wills but these are dangerous times for both them and their new Morisco friends and soon they are caught up in a series of events which will finally unlock the real meaning of family.
A Divided Inheritance is not just the story of two vibrant young people swept along on a fearsome tide of religious fervour, it also an exploration of the harsh realities of the expulsion of the Moriscos from Spain and how people cope in times of peril.
The past comes alive through impeccable research, layers of intriguing plotline, an understanding of the complexities of 17th century politics and the sheer power of descriptive prose.
Add to all this Swift’s rich characterisation and subtle evocation of a period of religious upheaval and you have a classy, compelling adventure story and a true journey of discovery.
(Pan, paperback, £7.99)