Bibliophile | Scheming and intrigue abound in Philippa Gregory’s ‘Dawnlands’

by Philippa Gregory
Simon & Schuster

In 1685, London is still rebuilding after the Great fire of 1666. Livia Avery is summoned to be Lady in Waiting to her good friend Mary of Modena, whose husband is to be crowned King James II of England.

The new king is Roman Catholic who prays in a foreign language and kneels for Mass with his foreign wife. There are many who want to remove the papist and put the illegitimate son of the former king on the throne to save the Church of England.

Ned Ferryman, who is related to Livia through marriage, is one of those people and he boards a ship to return to London from the Americas when he hears of the rebellion building against the Stuart king.

Accompanying Ned is “a girl out of the woods of the Americas” whose whole village was destroyed by the English invaders and was going to be sold as a plantation slave for the Sugar Islands before Ned rescued her.

Disguised as Ned’s man servant and given the name of Rowen, the last remaining of the Pokanoket (people of the Dawnlands) tribe, travels to the far away land and provides an outsider’s point of view as opposing sides gather for a civil war.

Mary has been unable to provide the king with a male heir and Livia convinces her son Matthew and is foster mothers Alinor and Alys to put together an escape plan for the queen if King James’ army is overrun by the rebels.

Gregory, who includes a bibliography of her research, delves into the plight of the common people who get swept up into going into battle for the wealthy who end up profiting from the uprising.

Using personal journeys, Gregory manages to highlight how some people were skilled in benefiting from political manoeuvring, power battles, warfare and colonisation. But she also highlights the huge amount of human causalities for battles where only a few profit.

There is no need to have read the two previous books (Tidelands and Dark Tides) to appreciate this story of intrigue and scheming as the women push the boundaries of a society that gives them no obvious power, and some of the powerless manage to escape the brutality of the entitled.

Lezly Herbert

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