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Jenny Barden – The Lost Duchess

Book Cover

America – freedom.

Publisher: Ebury Press (Random House)
Pages: 424
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-0-091-94924-2
First Published: 7th November 2013
Date Reviewed: 4th June 2014
Rating: 4/5

Emme was lured into a room by Lord Hertford, who raped her. Unable to tell anyone, knowing that her reputation would be shattered, and worried about her position as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth if it was revealed, Emme sets her sights on joining a ship-full of colonists heading to the New World.

The Lost Duchess is a rather good book that is so well-written and entrenched in its history you might have to remind yourself of the differences in views between then and now to fully appreciate it.

The book is about the first voyages to America and the confrontations with the Native Americans, however given the context of Emme’s inclusion and the unfailing and careful consideration, by Barden, of Emme’s abuse, it would be impossible to write about the book without speaking of the inclusion at length.

The abuse happens at the very start of the book and it’s the catalyst for much of what happens, informing the narrative. What is good about Barden’s handling of the aftermath is the consistency. It’s a careful inclusion, so thoughtful that you may at times think that Emme will suddenly move on from it. Ultimately Emme learns to live with what has happened to her, but it isn’t forgotten by the book. It informs her feelings; it makes her actions towards the man she comes to love hot and cold. Readers are asked to understand Emme in our modern context, but lest we forget that Emme is of her time, Barden, both to show us and to simply portray the era, fills Emme’s thoughts with worries that she is ruined, that to speak will be her downfall. There is also some arrogance in Emme that could be the result of her previously semi-independent self trying to claw back who she was.

He was nothing but a knave trying to dominate her, just as every man she had ever known had tried to dominate her, and she wanted no more to do with him.

The above is about a man who never harms or does Emme any wrong. At once you see the way Emme’s mindset has changed, but it could also be read as a no-holds-barred statement of the era in general. This historically-focused, more than ‘usual’, storytelling is what makes you appreciate what Barden is saying about difference.

Leading on from Barden’s concentration on the era, nowhere in the book are there questions about the ‘right’ to use land that does not belong to England. The only place this concept arises is in the speech of a Native American chief. To our modern selves this seems crazy; Barden’s book is very realistic and isn’t about morality or lessons. Instead of being mollified by a 1500s Englishman questioning the right to invade (which, let’s face it, likely happened on a very limited basis), the reader has to do the thinking. You’re left to think about why no one brought this idea up, why Kit, who is a ‘good guy’, doesn’t respond to the chief’s very true statement, why caring Emme thinks about a future where the city of Raleigh thrives without considering anything else. Kit does discuss the irony of calling an intelligent, peaceful people, ‘savage’, but that is all. That said, there is true compassion to be found in the relationships between the English sailors and the Native Americans. (Here ‘relationship’ means both love and friendship.) These relationships are about love, about sacrifice, and show how peace could have been created had it not been for the racist leaders in the group of sailors.

There is little to speak of in terms of setbacks. Barden has written a good book, obviously conducted a lot of research, and knows the period well. She wishes to explore personality and society as well as take a look at the mystery of the initial settlers (whilst Barden provides an answer, her Author’s Note explains that the colony she has written about is lost to history). There are a couple of modern slang phrases but then the book is written in modern English, and there are a couple of scenes in which Barden wants to inform the reader of facts but goes on a little too long.

The plot is important, very important to Barden, but it should be noted that the book is much about Emme and to a lesser extent Kit, and so although the voyage and trials are there all along, they might not always be as exciting as you expected. This is definitely a book for those who like their stories character-driven.

The Lost Duchess looks at history and asks us to forget our modernity. It looks at ageless issues and respects all, and it does this whilst never being sorry for what it leaves out.

Emme is brave and it could be said that Barden is, too. The reader must fall in line if they wish to sail across the sea with them.

I received this book for review from the author for Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

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June 4, 2014, 8:40 pm

I am so curious about this one

Literary Feline

June 5, 2014, 1:05 am

This sounds very interesting! I haven’t read too much fiction set in this time period.

I am glad the author does such a good job conveying just how much the rape affected Emme. Trauma like that doesn’t just go away over night. It can affect every aspect of our lives.


June 5, 2014, 5:01 pm

I almost requested this off Netgalley after reading your post I wish I had!


June 5, 2014, 8:45 pm

I’m reading this now for the tour and am only halfway through, so I’ll come back to read your review when I’ve finished. I’m enjoying it so far!



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