Birthright | David Hingley | 2016 (21 July) | Allison & Busby | 416p | Review copy | Buy the book
It is 1664 and King Charles II is on the throne but the years of Civil War and Commonwealth rule continue to leave their mark. Mercia Blakewood, already a young widow, is about to lose everything else. Her father is to be executed as a Parliamentarian traitor, exempt from the King’s amnesty for reasons she cannot fathom, while her husband’s parents are intent on stealing her son away. Her father’s treachery means that her house and lands are also forfeit, to be given to her unkind uncle, while Mercia’s poor mother, a victim of the Civil War in so many ways, is to be banished. But Mercia will not give up. She is determined to fight for her son’s inheritance and to do that she must win the King’s favour. An opportunity comes when her father leaves Mercia a cryptic message, hinting at a mystery that the King would be grateful indeed to see solved.
This secret plunges Mercia into danger as mysterious figures emerge from the shadows to threaten and harm. She’s not above fighting her own corner and Mercia uses disguise to hunt out clues through London’s roughest alleys and stinking marshes. But Mercia’s courage, honour and beauty win others over to her cause and two men in particular are willing to follow her wherever she leads, even if her hunt takes her across the Atlantic to the Americas and the birth of New York.
The Restoration is one of my favourite periods in history to read about and so I was delighted to receive David Hingley’s debut novel Birthright. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The character of Mercia Blakewood dominates while still remaining believable and grounded in her time. I grew to care for her very much, not least because she fights to retain her independence against almost insurmountable odds. In a way the mystery is almost secondary. Mercia’s determined to solve it whatever the cost (you sense that nothing would make her give it up) but what really matters is protecting her son and her own future, possibly even finding love again along the way.
The other great strength of Birthright is its depiction of the long and eventful voyage across the Atlantic as well as the scenes in the settlement of New Amsterdam on the American coast. The structure of the novel works so well, showing us the old ways of England, so rocked by war and death, and the potential and promise of this new continent. I enjoyed both equally.
David Hingley writes very well, moving both story and character along very effectively, interspersed with some wonderful cameos, not least King Charles and his brother the Duke of York. The adventure itself is such a good one, full of baddies and goodies and others who could be either but it’s so hard to guess. The only certainty in this fine debut novel is Mercia and her love for her son. I can only hope that this is not the last we see of this intriguing young woman.