In the second of Gregory’s Fairmile series—after Tidelands (2019)—Venetian intrigue meets English gullibility.
When we last saw Alinor Reekie, she had been cast out of her Sussex tidelands home after being “swum” as a witch. Twenty-one years after their escape to London, Alinor and her older daughter, Alys, run a small import-export warehouse while 21-year-old twins Sarah and Johnnie are learning a trade. Now, in 1670, Sir James, Alinor’s former lover, who failed to defend her against the witch-hunters, has come into his noble estate and arrives, far too belatedly, to offer to marry Alinor. He’s also hoping to claim the child she was carrying at the time of her exile as his heir, but Alinor rejects him, telling him cryptically that he has no child. There is no clear protagonist here. White-haired Alinor, “not yet fifty,” whose health never recovered from her near drowning, has been shunted into an advisory role. Into this modest but content household slinks Livia, a sultry Venetian, self-professed widow of Alinor’s son Rob, a physician in Venice who accidentally drowned. “La Nobildonna” (title courtesy of her first late husband) seeks shelter with her infant son, Matteo. Alinor is suspicious—her clairvoyance would have warned her of Rob’s death. Readers will not need second sight to distrust Livia, but it’s fun to watch her swindle—involving ancient statuary—take shape. Unsurprisingly, her long game is to ensnare the ever susceptible Sir James. In what could be a separate novel, Alinor’s brother Ned, a staunch “Leveler,” has immigrated to New England. The détente between English settlers and Native tribes is beginning to fray, and Ned, in an exposition-heavy but very instructive parallel plot, is trying his best to advocate for the Natives. However, readers will be tempted to skip Ned’s sections to see whether Sarah, also gifted with second sight, can rescue the family. Someone has to!
An uneven but still welcome addition to the Gregory cannon.
Pub Date: today
Page Count: 464
Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020