Devil Water

Written by Anya Seton
Review by Diane Scott Lewis

Through a youthful misalliance, Charles Radcliffe, brother to the Earl of Derwentwater, is forced to marry a pregnant Northumbrian lass. Ashamed of the marriage, after his daughter Jenny is born Charles is captivated by her. Charles and his brother join the Jacobite rebellion of 1715 to put the pretender, James Stuart, on the English throne. The rebellion fails and the brothers are imprisoned. The earl is executed but Charles escapes to France after begging that his cousin raise Jenny and make a lady of her. Jenny grows to be a beautiful teenager and remembers little of her father. She does remember the North Country boy who brought her to London, Rob. At school she is befriended by Evelyn the daughter of a colonial Virginia plantation owner. Charles, under sentence of death, sneaks back into England to see Jenny. She is shocked to have a traitor for a father, but his charm wins her over. Jenny’s beauty attracts a lecherous duke who kidnaps her, but Rob saves her. The duke orders Rob to be transported as a convict to Virginia.

Charles takes Jenny to France to protect her. But Jenny dislikes her new step-mother and pines for Rob. She implores her father to allow her to travel to Virginia with Evelyn, secretly intending to search for this young man. Only her father’s recapture in England will bring her back to try and save him.

First published in 1962, this novel is based on fact and true historical figures. It’s filled with period detail, richly drawn characters, and the battle between the Catholics and Protestants. I found Jenny’s obsessive love for the boorish Rob off-putting, but they seemed to have had a long, contented marriage. A lush, old-fashioned read.