The Voyage of The Destiny

Written by Robert Nye
Review by James Hawking


This fictional journal of Sir Walter Raleigh’s last year (1618) also serves as his attempt at self-justification while struggling against an inevitable doom. King James I has released him from the Tower for pursuit of elusive South American gold or as a catspaw. A skirmish at a Spanish outpost on the Orinoco results in the death of Raleigh’s foolhardy son Wat, beginning train of events that comprise the novel’s action.

The man who started his career as a youth throwing down his cloak has some ungallant comments about the Virgin Queen’s age and the smell of her feet as he details their physical relationship. Other Elizabethans from the worlds of literature and art move in and out of the novel as they affect Raleigh’s life: Ben Jonson makes a brief drunken appearance; Francis Bacon plays a treacherous role, as he seems to have done in the actual history; James I appears as a pedantic hypocrite given to taking advice from his homosexual favorites, but is also a sincere anti-tobacco crusader.

Nye uses historical events to delineate a flawed character victimized by of arbitrary forces. An elderly Raleigh pieces together his reputation: South American tribes regard him as a demigod; in court circles he is a has-been courtier who spent the last fifteen years in the Tower; in Spain he is seen as a dangerous enemy; to investors he seems like a madman obsessed with nonexistent gold; the King regards him as a traitor; the Irish regard him as a butcher; churchmen suspect his religion. Although almost all the novel is narrated by a self-serving Raleigh, this entertaining novel gives the reader enough evidence to make independent judgments.