For Educators and Readers:
I did not like this book. Too bad too because I loved Lisa Klein's Ophelia and Two Girls of Gettysburg so I was very excited to see a Lost Colony historical fiction. Understand I have a very special place in my heart for the first English attempts to colonize the coast of modern day North Carolina. I live here for one. I've paddled the same waters around modern day Manteo, stood on top of Jockey's Ridge, and have been swallowed up by the vastness of the ocean standing on Ocracoke's shores. I've seen descendants of the same black bears Thomas Harriot recorded in his New Found Land of Virginia. I've heard the howling of the red wolves recovered from near total extinction and returned to run the land between the Sounds. I've spoken with the many-great grandchildren of the ancient Native Algonquins who greeted the first English planters and have cried more than once at knowing their unfortunate fate less than a century later. I've visited the archaeological digs, studied the wildlife, read the historical documents, interviewed the experts, immersed myself in pow-wows and reenactments, and tried as best I can to imagine what it must have been like to experience both the beauty and terror of what Ralph Lane declared as a new "Eden". It was gravely disappointing to see so little of this in Klein's novel. I felt lost in a world that is vastly familiar to me--fitting perhaps for the subject matter, but certainly not the author's intention.
Let me be clear--it appears Klein did her homework. Her inclusion of a bibliography at the end of her novel shows this. I've read all of the works she listed, and more, and I'm willing to say it may be because of that I am grading Klein too harshly for what I feel is a poorly created historical setting. She does infuse Algonquin and period English words into the text very well, and I do feel her depiction of the English court of Queen Elizabeth, at least from a lady in waiting's perspective, is interesting and more accurate than we tend to see in young adult historical fiction. Elizabeth is vain, self-centered, and witty. The use of author-modified documents and poetry actually composed by Sir Walter Raleigh is an interesting narrative twist. And Klein's descriptions of the wild animal menagerie at the Tower of London and the hinted sexual diversions of the court work both as literary devices as well as to give a sense of the grittiness we want to see in modern historical fiction. Not a glorified altruistic golden age of the past, but a time, like ours, covered in grime and warts and selfishness. Klein achieves this, at least in part.
However, there is never a place in the book where I begin to care about the main character Lady Cate. Though she is an orphan, I don't feel her pain. She seems to too easily adapt to both courtly life and her infatuation with Sir Walter Raleigh even while bemoaning the loss of her father. It didn't feel real to me, her frequent "mopping of tears" or her shift in loyalties between the Queen, Sir Walter, and later Manteo. Cate, as a character, became someone I did not sympathize with despite her obvious hardships. I couldn't. Not when it seemed like her heartache was mostly of her own making. Unlike a character who gains perspective from mistakes, one who changes, it felt the only change Cate made from beginning to end was in her dress. Not because she wanted to either, but because her options were limited.
Klein says she depicts the Native Algonquins in the book as best she could using what historical texts are available and retelling of traditional legends. As someone who has studied extensively in this area, I know how difficult it is to find accurate texts. Unfortunately, the limited and scattered references we do have are all, at one point or another, distorted through the European viewpoints and cultural biases of the English or Americans who initial put pen to paper. Primary and secondary documents, historical experts, and cultural legends and artifacts help, but nothing can fully reveal the story. This is understand and agree with. Unfortunately, from a reader's perspective, Klein stops too early. Manteo, like Cate, is a character I have difficulty connecting with even though I really wanted to. What must have been going through his head? A Native Algonquin man transported to the stone towers and filthy masses of 16th century London? Shock? Anguish? Awe? Could he have had any idea of what was to come for his people the way Powhatan's priests prophesied a generation later at the arrival of the ships baring Jamestown colonists? We will never know for sure. We can only imagine.
But surely we can imagine. Humanity has not changed so much in four centuries or across cultures separated by millenia. We still feel heartache, compassion, hatred, love, anger and resentment and betrayal, trust and forgiveness and hope. These things haven't changed in us, much the same way the land here in Northeastern North Carolina has changed little over the intervening four centuries since the famous Lost Colonists became lost. It is that lack of distance between us I believe Klein fails to display. In trying to capture the events and the period, Klein fails to capture the heart of her characters. They don't change and when they do, it is a forced kind of change stemming from limiting circumstances rather than a change of heart or belief. Unfortunately, it is this distance from her characters that limits what could have been an enjoyable novel.