England, 1587: Rose Payne, recently escaped from a disastrous betrothal, has been accepted into the post of ship’s clerk on a vessel carrying religious separatists to start a colony in the New World. The story takes as its springboard the unexplained disappearance of the settlers at Roanoke, which provides plenty of opportunity for this involved and twisting, first-person account. The greater part of this book is set on the colonists’ journey; it is here that their trials and tribulations – everything from accusations of witchcraft, tempestuous weather and treachery within the party – are painted by Grafford with such authenticity that even if you have no understanding of life on a sixteenth century vessel, you are able to picture it vividly. It is also the part of the book where you grow to love – or dislike, as appropriate – the main characters.
The remainder of the story follows the party’s survivors when they eventually make landfall and set about the precarious business of trying to fend for themselves. Here, the plot sometimes feels less convincing and the sheer number of minor characters is quickly confusing despite the author’s best efforts. Happenings in the new settlement also begin to feel rushed as the romantic side to the story is given greater prominence. The stray ‘modernisms’ had me gnashing my teeth at times, and after such an epic quest, the ending was not to my taste, but Jo Grafford certainly brings to life a little-known and ultimately catastrophic venture in this well-researched, consuming tale.