A King returned. A widow’s grief. A Daughter’s quest for the truth.
Midsummers Eve, 1670. Two unexpected visitors arrive at a shabby warehouse on the south side of the River Thames. The first is a wealthy man hoping to find the lover he deserted twenty-one years before. James Avery has everything to offer, including the favour of the newly restored King Charles II, and he believes that the warehouse’s poor owner Alinor has the one thing his money cannot buy – his son and heir.
The second visitor is a beautiful widow from Venice in deepest mourning. She claims Alinor as her mother-in-law and has come to tell Alinor that her son Rob has drowned in the dark tides of the Venice lagoon.
Alinor writes to her brother Ned, newly arrived in faraway New England and trying to make a life between the worlds of the English newcomers and the American Indians as they move towards inevitable war. Alinor tells him that she knows – without a doubt – that her son is alive, and the widow is an imposter.
Set in the poverty and glamour of Restoration London, in the golden streets of Venice, and on the newly contested frontier of early America, this is a novel of greed and desire: for love, for wealth, for a child, and for home.
I should start by saying that I’m something of a history buff and am therefore a huge fan of Philippa Gregory: She’s the undisputed queen of historical fiction. I’ve read a number of her novels over the years, but I’m most familiar with her bestselling fictional biographies of 15th and 16th century Plantagenet and Tudor women. Her Fairmile series differs slightly to these works. In Tidelands, and now Dark Tides, Gregory smoothly manages the transition to the 17th century where she tracks the rise of the Ferryman family in London, Venice and New England.
One of the things I admire most about Gregory’s novels is that she has always gone to great lengths to give voice to women who might otherwise have remained a mere footnote in history. She takes this a step further in her Fairmile series; unlike the heroines of her earlier works, Alinor Reekie has no claims to wealth or power. She’s a poor yet proud woman, who lives simply, and yet in spite of this, she makes a worthy protagonist, and her story was a genuine pleasure to follow.
After reading Tidelands, it was fascinating to pick up with the same characters twenty-one years later in Dark Tides. A lot has changed, and yet not a lot at all. The Ferryman family is still a proud, hardworking bunch, and it was interesting to see how they’ve shifted and grown during the intervening years.
Richly imagined, meticulously researched, and utterly spellbinding, Dark Tides was a marvellous read, perfect for readers of Philippa Gregory and historical fiction. I can’t wait for the next instalment in the Fairmile series.