Friday, October 9, 2015

Spirit of the Highway by Deborah Swift


England has been engaged in a bitter Civil War for nearly ten years. Ralph Chaplin, a farmer’s son, has fallen for beautiful copper-haired Kate. There is only one problem – he is a Roundhead soldier and she is a Royalist lady. Told by Ralph’s ghost, Spirit of the Highway is the stand-alone second part of the Highway Trilogy based on the real life and legend of Lady Katherine Fanshawe, Highwaywoman.


The character of Katherine Fanshawe, the reputed lady highwayman has always fascinated me, so I was intrigued to see Deborah Swift has written a YA trilogy about her.  Was Lady Katherine simply a wealthy lady bored with her cushioned life, or did she have a darker reason to turn to the dangers of the road and highway robbery?

Spirit of the Highway is No 2 in the Highway Trilogy but can be read as a stand-alone novel.

England in late 1651 has seen the final defeat of the Royalist cause at Worcester, after which the Parliamentarian farmer Ralph Chaplin has returned to Markyate Manor. He still carries a torch for the grand lady of
the manor, Lady Katherine Fanshawe, a fellow sympathiser, although her husband is a Royalist. 

The story opens from an unusual standpoint, in that the main character is actually dead. Ralph is confronted on the battlefield by the Cavalier Copthorne out for vengeance, whose malice follows him long after the battle is over. 

Both families have to cope with the aftermath of the devastating years of war which left behind chaos and famine for the ordinary man that would last years, not to mention the ingrained prejudices between classes more difficult to change. That the author's villagers believed there would no longer be any more lords and ladies was a bit chilling, which didn’t bode well for Lady Katherine.

A beautifully written and impressively researched novel, with characterisation easy to get involved with: from the survivor opportunist Downall, the selfish Elizabeth whom I loved to hate and the needy Cutch who only wanted to belong.  

An excellent introduction for younger readers which outlines the causes and effects of the English Civil wars, a very complicated and changing time in England’s history. In her usual succinct and colourful way, Ms Swift also outlines the principals and aims of the Diggers movement which advocated claiming rights to and farming on common land.

The story puts a good case of how life changed at both ends of the scale, but I won’t spoil the ending for future readers. I now want to read the first book in the trilogy, Shadow of the Highway, and shall also look out for the third book  to see what happens next to ‘Ralph's Kate’.

Anita Davison author of ‘Royalist Rebel’ under the name Anita Seymour. Her latest venture is Murder On The Minneapolis, a Victorian cosy mystery from Robert Hale Publishing.
TWITTER: @AnitaSDavison

Thank you to the author and publisher. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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