1572. Europe is in turmoil. In the Netherlands the streets are red with the blood of those who dare to oppose the brutal Spanish occupation. A vengeful faction of exiled English Catholics is plotting to overthrow Queen Elizabeth and install her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots on the throne. But amid the unrest, one resourceful young woman has made a lucrative enterprise ...
Scottish-born Fenella Doorn rules like a queen over a privateer's haven on the Isle of Sark. Her success at salvaging crippled vessels affords her gold and security, and it is on one of these ships that she meets wealthy Baron—and privateer—Adam Thornleigh. Secretly drawn to him, Fenella can’t refuse when Adam enlists her to join him in war-torn Brussels to help find his traitorous wife, Frances—and the children she’s taken from him.
But Fenella’s own bold actions have put a price on her head. Now Adam and Fenella’s lives are in peril as they race across Europe in an attempt to rescue his young ones, defend the crown, and restore the peace that few can remember.
The author includes a very helpful historical note at the beginning of this novel that orients the reader in time and place and sets the scene for a dramatic story unfolding against a backdrop that I don't think I've ever encountered before in historical fiction: that of wealthy English Catholic exiles living in the Spanish-occupied Netherlands. We usually get this time period from the other side of the Channel, in Elizabeth's court as she attempts to keep Protestantism on top and fend off a multitude of foreign threats, but here we get to see what the rest of the world was thinking and doing during her spat with Spain. I really loved the setting of this and the intrigue of a group of nobles in exile, cozying up to the Spanish to bring down Elizabeth. But before we get there, we begin on Sark, a quirky little Channel Island that really illustrates what life must have been like for the people who lived so far from the mainland and so close to the shores of the enemy during this tumultuous time in history. It is there that we meet our hero and heroine, Adam and Fenella.
What follows is an epic tale of patriotism and treason, political upheaval and oppression, familial love and the ties that bind. The book description does a good job of setting up the story, and I don't want to spoil anything, so I'll forego a plot recap. This is a fun, swashbuckling read, but there are two things that keep me from rating it higher: I wasn't a big fan of the tendency throughout the story to lead the reader up to a pivotal moment and then skip over it, bringing the reader up to speed after the fact, presenting scenes in retrospect and flashback rather than letting them unfold as they happened. It sort of muted the impact of some really great plot twists. And I thought things shook out a little too easily at the end; moral dilemmas and pesky legal ties that had been plaguing the characters throughout the story were suddenly and conveniently no longer problems. Like the previous book in this series, The Queen's Exiles can stand alone just fine, though at times I felt that if I had read the earlier books, I would have better appreciated some of the supporting characters, particularly Carlos and Isabel, and their history with each other and the main characters in this book.
Still, The Queen's Exiles was an entertaining read. Never a dull moment, exciting action, dramatic twists and turns, and a little bit of romance. Brash and colorful characters. And it transported me to a few interesting and vividly depicted historical settings that were new to me. A good pick for historical fiction fans in the mood for something bold and adventuresome.
My Rating: 3.5 Stars out of 5
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