Sunday, June 27, 2010

REVIEW: Roanoke by Margaret Lawrence

It is 27 years into the reign of Queen Elizabeth. The country is bankrupt, the Queen has weathered several assassination attempts, and Spain is threatening to invade. Gabriel North, spy in the court, saves the Queen from one such assassination attempt. His reward is to join an expedition to Roanoke, a part of the New World that is said to contain gold and untold riches.

The Roanoke expedition is a failure from the start. The Governor appointed for the English is a psychotic man who treats the locals as nothing more than animals. When the men face starvation, they attack the Indian population and are soon at war with them. Only Gabriel who befriends and falls in love with the Princess Naia is any different. Once the expedition ends the surviving English return to England. Gabriel can think of nothing but returning to the New World and Naia. He volunteers to accompany a group of colonists on a second trip to the New World. This time it becomes apparent that someone wants the Roanoke Colony to deliberately fail. Soon the entire Roanoke village vanishes without a trace.

Several months later back in England rumors start to circulate that some of the women colonists have survived and returned to England. Soon Rob-Gabriel's friend and former spying partner-must help Gabriel who doomed the expedition to Roanoke and how close to the Crown that person is.

This novel started out well enough with the first expedition and the utter failure of it because of the men's attitude toward the local population and their complete lack of skills needed to survive. I enjoyed the vivid picture the author painted of the first settlement-the struggle for survival while battling illness and starvation and the obsessive quest for the map to gold mines that didn't even exist. Also I liked seeing things from the point of view of Princess Naia and the Secota Indians and the author conjured a good villian in the sadistic Tesik, the Secota warrior who believed no white men had redeeming qualities and wanted to kill them all. The language was also fairly modern for a historical novel. On a few occasions I wondered if the wording used even existed at that time. The two trips to Roanoke and the romance between Naia and Gabriel (even though it was a little John Smith/Pocanhontas like) was the highlight of the book.

I think if the novel would have stayed with the colonists on Roanoke and went into greater detail about what happened to them it would have been a better novel. Instead, except for the vanishing colony being politically motivated take on the story, it didn't present any new ideas as to what may have happened to the colony. The whole "what powerful, sinister person caused this to happen?" when the book returned to England in the latter half really bogged the whole thing down. Also for a book billed as a novel of Elizabethan intrigue, Her Majesty wasn't really a prominent character at all. We see glimpses of her as an aging woman beset by the problems of the realm and surrounded by schemer but the focus was always Gabriel.

It almost seemed like this book would have been better if it was two separate novels if that makes sense. This was a middle of the road read for me-enjoyable overall but a little foggy when it came to the plot.

1 comment:

  1. I was very interested in this book - because it sounded so promising. I'm sorry it was a little of a let down. I will have to consider it a little more before making a decision on it. Thanks.