Published by Lammas Publishing
Publication date – 5 May 2022
Source – review copy
1553. Goldhanger, a tiny fishing village on the Blackwater marshes. Fifteen-year-old Dela’s strange bond with animals has her branded a witch by the locals. Running for her life, with only a rescued dog for a friend, Dela manages to find sanctuary at the palace of Princess Mary. These are dangerous times, with the boy-king Edward on his deathbed and the succession uncertain. Traumatised at first, in an alien world of spies and courtiers, Dela is befriended by a trio of acrobats and players. But when she is drawn to one of them, Fitz, she discovers he holds a terrible secret that promises to tear her fragile world apart.
Dela lives with her guardian Ned, in the fishing village of Blackwater. Her affinity with animals has led to whispers and strange looks, the word witch whispered when she walks by. When she has a confrontation with violent land lord Tallon she runs away, finding herself in the court of Princess Mary. There she makes friends with the tumblers and entertainers of the palace, in particular Fitz. But plans are afoot to control the throne and Dela soon finds herself in danger.
I was soon drawn into Dela’s world. The sights and sounds of the Blackwater, the marshes and bogs were easily imagined. I could see Dela’s bed in the rafters of the stables, almost smell the salted herring and ale she ate. The court of Princess Mary is in stark contrast to the world Dela is used to. It was fascinating to see how the two worlds collided.
There are a variety of characters who all add something to the book. There are the villainous Tallon and his henchmen, the fabled Duke of Northumberland who is plotting to put himself or his son on the throne. Princess Mary is harsh, subdued but also fiery, the product of being raised by a father who loved her and then disowned her when he fell under the spell of her step-mother Ann Boleyn. Lucretia and Jane, the tumbler and the fool, provide Dela with a friendship she has been lacking. Ned is her friend, a replacement parent after her mother’s death. He knows that Dela’s gift could be a curse and worries for her future. Then there are Sal and her son Rob both of whom do what they can to help her. As for Dela she is a character that immediately appeals. She is strong, stronger than she believes, isn’t aware of her gift until it appears, is scared of not being able to control it. All she wants is to live her life quietly in Blackwater. She feels out of place in the palace, in the company of fine ladies and fine talk. That does not mean she is not afraid to voice her thoughts, though she knows it may lead to trouble. It is there that she meets Fitz, who is the one who may save her, not only from immediate peril but from a future of loneliness.
The writing is assured and the narrative pulls the reader along. I was keen to see what would happen to Dela in this reimagined moment in the time of unrest after the death of Henry VIII.
I thoroughly enjoyed this tale, a mixture of romance, adventure and history, with a splash of magical realism.