Devil WaterDevil Water by Anya Seton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Similar to other reviewers, I had very mixed feelings about this book. From a historical perspective, the research was impeccable, from the dialect and unique culture of 18th century Northumberland to Virginia of the early colonial period and all of the historical figures worked into the story.

On the negative side, even with my familiarity with this history, I struggled to maintain interest in the first 100 pages. Many times I felt the details were excessive and severely encumbered the plot progression. I also had some trouble with the flow of the story, feeling it too broken up as it spans almost forty years and is written as six books, some with large time gaps in between.

The book begins with a very detailed account of the early life of Charles Radcliffe, young brother to the 3rd Earl of Derwentwater who was executed for treason after the 1715 Jacobite uprising. The author recounts the event leading to the uprising that ended swiftly as an almost tragic comedy of errors, yet I felt almost complete emotional detachment from the main characters. When I did feel sympathy, it was more for James (the Earl) than for his reckless younger brother, but I always felt as if I were watching them with detachment, as if characters in a stage play.

For the first third of the book, the author tended to jump between Charles and James and then finally moved on to Jenny (at about page 230) and centered the rest of the book on her. It felt like separate books that didn’t quite mesh together. I liked Jenny’s character very much and the love story between she and Rob was compelling. This was truly the best part of the book for me, but then it circled back around to the Jacobite intrigue with the rising of 1745 and her father’s subsequent execution.

I think I would have enjoyed this story more had the author decided to begin with Jenny and fill in her family background as the story progressed.

For those interested in English Jacobite history, particularly the Uprising of 1715, I enjoyed Walter Besant’s Dorothy Forster, another biographical fiction that relates many of these same events through the first person narrative of Dorothy Forster, sister to General Thomas Forster, a Northumberland MP, who like Charles Radcliffe, also escaped Newgate for France. I felt Besant’s account of these particular events was more emotionally engaging.

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