Island of the Swans

Written by Ciji Ware

Over twenty years since its initial release, Sourcebooks has repackaged Island of the Swans as less of a romance and more as the historical novel it is. Little is known of Jane Maxwell, who was born in Edinburgh in 1749 and died in 1812; this reviewer did some research herself and discovered that nearly everything known about Jane has been incorporated into Ware’s book. For everything else, Ware has relied on her impeccable research to bring her characters to life and set the scene.

Jane grows up as a tomboy; she would much rather play outside (and get into trouble) with her friends than work on her sampler. Her mother knows the only way a woman can be successful is to marry well, but that is the furthest thing from young Jane’s mind as she continues her antics – one leading to a near tragedy that makes her even less of a suitable bride.

Her childhood friend, Thomas, eventually courts Jane, but being an orphan, he is not the catch Jane’s mother would have her marry. Despite their class differences, Jane knows he is her true love. When word arrives of his untimely death, there is little left for her but to marry Alexander, Duke of Gordon, for convenience’s sake. Thus begins a love triangle that threatens her happiness. Jane becomes a great hostess and grooms her daughters into marriageable material. She also meets the young poet, Robert Burns, and becomes his patron.

Ware has written an absolutely fascinating tale of a woman who was willing to do anything for love. Although it ends in 1797 rather than taking the reader through to the end of Jane’s life, Ware gives readers a satisfying historical novel that is hard to put down once started. This story can’t be recommended enough.