Thursday, 14 November 2013

A Divided Inheritance by Deborah Swift

A Divided Inheritance is a fabulous read. Deborah Swift’s other two novels set in the seventeenth century, The Lady’s Slipper and The Gilded Lily, are thoroughly enjoyable books, well-plotted with depth of characterisation. A Divided Inheritance is, without doubt, the most sophisticated work of the three novels and a brilliant achievement. An excellent historical novel owns two elements: the total immersion of a reader into a previous historical era and engaging characterisation. With A Divided Inheritance, Deborah Swift succeeds on both counts.

The story is set during the early years of the reign of James 1st , opening in London to a background of trade and religious tension following the late Elizabethan period and The Gunpowder Plot. Elspet Leviston hopes to inherit her father’s London lace business but is thwarted by the arrival of a lost cousin.  As a consequence her inheritance will be divided. Zachary Deane has a disreputable background, yet despite his shadowy past, her father draws him into their pleasant London home and his business. To Elspet’s chagrin he sends this mysterious cousin on a grand tour to look for new markets and to knock off his rough edges.

Elspet is a devout English Catholic, intrepid, and not deterred by obstacles, she takes on a terrifying sea and land journey into Spain, a country in the grip of Inquisition, in search of Zachary after her father’s sudden demise. The journey to Seville sets in motion intriguing events as the two protagonists become locked in a battle of wills, involved in a school for training swordsmen and in the expulsion of a persecuted people, the Morisco population of Andulusia, one often composed of  baptised Christians . The expulsion is a very moving aspect of this novel’s plot, superb in its depiction and integration into the novel’s overall narrative drive, also providing the story’s sub plot.

At the heart of the novel is character. Even minor characters are extraordinarily well developed and, of course, the protagonists are particularly rich depictions. Elspet is plucky and determined but she is also a prim Jacobean lady who early in the book faces several disappointments. She is a heroine rooted in her time yet propelled by circumstances into situations which permit her ultimate self-discovery. Vividly portrayed she leaps off the page in her farthingales, laced bodices, her desire to visit every Spanish church on the route across this arid, dangerous country, her ability to stay her post under a relentless sun, whilst waiting for the difficult retrograde, Zachary, each day, as he learns skills of the sword. She is indomitable and will confront him. Zachary Deane is a man of the sword, an ultimately likeable ne’er do well. Can he meet the challenge the story’s terrible events present and gain redemption? As for all the personalities in between- they successfully respectively aid or hinder the story’s development. All of them provide a convincing and engaging gallery of characters whose destinies we care about. This novel must be praised for Deborah Swift’s attention to research and her translation of this into brilliant characterisation, scintillating dialogue and a thrilling narrative. Her research, though impeccable and thorough, never shows. The scenes set in a Spanish sword school and amongst the Morisco community are vibrant. I was there participating in Elspet’s and Zachary’s story lives, fighting with sword, trudging Seville’s narrow streets, watching their romances develop and the threats to their survival. A Divided Inheritance is a terrific historical novel; one which on reaching the last page I was reluctant to put down. I hope it provides other readers with an equally delectable sense of enjoyment. It comes highly recommended.
A Divided Inheritance is available from Amazon and from bookshops

review by Carol McGrath


  1. Fantastic review! Sounds like a great book!

  2. A fabulous review, which entices me to have yet another book on my 'To Read' list!

  3. Thank you and clearly I loved all of her novels.