This is the author’s first novel. He effectively uses accounts of the old Plymouth Colony to portray life in a congregation of Saints, religious separatists who did not pledge their allegiance to the official church in England and who lived in isolated communities. As a small child of two, Melode is orphaned in a tavern fire set by the Saints and then taken in as a servant by one of the families in the congregation. At the time the story begins, she is sixteen, strong-minded, spirited, and somewhat impetuous. Hers is not an easy life. She is treated harshly, feels like an outsider in the congregation, and harbors resentment towards the Saints for her mother’s death. She finds comfort and joy where she can, with friends and tending the herb garden.
When the Saints’ landlord dies and the new landlord is not sympathetic to their cause, the congregation decides to travel to America. Melode sees this as an opportunity to start a new life with her lover, Adam, the son of the congregation’s leader. The story follows Melode on her journey to America, taking many twists and turns, and ultimately ending up at Thomas Merton’s Merrymount settlement in Massachusetts. Along the way, events and Melode’s nature cause her to suffer and endure much. In the end, she matures and makes peace with herself and her decisions.
Melode is a complex character, one not always likable. I found the reading slow going at times, as the story is written in the first person and the dialogue is not in quotes. I had to keep figuring out who said what. However, the story was captivating and populated with interesting characters, and the author’s use of period vocabulary really helped transport me to the seventeenth century.