REVIEW: The Tenth Gift by Jane Johnson
Dear Ms Johnson,
Since I love historical fiction, I checked out “The Tenth Gift” when I saw it listed at Fictionwise. The blurb intrigued me but not enough to immediately buy it. But I kept going back and looking at it. Something about it wouldn’t let me go and when Fictionwise offered a sale, I took the plunge. It was a little slow going at first. Then suddenly it took off and I couldn’t stop reading it. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And when I had finished it, I was so glad I’d taken the chance.
I used to do some simple embroidery myself though nothing on the scale of Catherine Anne Tregenna’s work. Cat sounds like a true artist; someone with a rare gift and talent few are blessed with. I had no idea that in the seventeenth century, women – who would have actually done the work – were not considered able to join an embroidery guild nor would they have drawn most of the patterns they used. Typical men – foist the work on the women then take the credit.
I can well understand her frustration with that aspect of her life and also her dread of being forced into a marriage she didn’t want – no matter that her cousin seems like a decent man. As she puts it – married, living in a small house, pregnant year after year, slowly going mad in Cornwall – I’d dream and scheme to get the hell out of Dodge myself. And for a young woman who’d never seen anything of the world, the idea of actually seeing Barbary pirates would seem grand. Until, as Cat finds out, you need to be careful what you wish for.
Just as Cat has her faults, modern Julia isn’t a squeaky clean angel either. In fact, I rather didn’t care for her at first. Having a long standing affair with her best friend’s husband is awful. No matter that the man himself is a heel. Then she wasn’t the mistress of tact in helping her cousin deal with her husband’s death by suicide. But as she began to dig into the mystery of Cat’s past via the embroidery book in which Cat had painstakingly written her true thoughts of life as a servant in Cornwall, to be followed by Cat’s initial account of being seized, along with 59 other people from a Cornish church by pirates, I was snagged for good.
I love how you let the story of what happened to Cat be slowly revealed – both through her writing, what scarce items remain of her and in glimpses of the past. Thank you for the manner in which you convey information to the reader by having Julia look it up herself on Google rather than awkwardly cramming it down our throats in huge gulps. And oh, the descriptions of Cornwall and Morocco. I was there seeing the Cornish light by the sea. The scents, sounds and sights of the souqs of Rabat engulfed me. I was gripping my ereader as Julia and I survived her wild stretch limo taxi ride from Casablanca to Rabat – complete with gestures, curses and suddenly swerving across three lanes of traffic. Definitely take your valium before trying that!
By the end of the book, I had come to appreciate how none of the characters are blameless. Each has done something which shames them and most acknowledge their failings. I got the feeling that redemption had been sought and given. That love had cleansed and cleaned. And about that love. Sometimes an author has a hard time getting me to believe in one love story, much less two. When one love story begins in a pirate kidnapping, proceeds through a hellish slave journey by sea, then wanders through the heroine being sold at auction, my belief is sorely tested. I don’t like uneven power divisions between my heroes and heroines. But to be honest, I felt Cat was calling the shots long before she decides to finally end her lover’s torment and agree to marry him. Poor bastard.
Another thank you for giving Julia and her love time to get to know each other, to court each other before handing us a line about any rushed wedding and HEA. Those two have a lot to work out and deal with even in the face of “twue love.” It’s also sad to see how little some things have changed over the centuries – war and religion will always bedevil us it seems.
Why didn’t I give you an A? The woo – woo stuff – both with the old ladies and their predictions, the echoing of the farewell letters, and at the end with settling Rob’s ghost, brings the grade down slightly. But it was eerie how you tied it all together and had it make sense.
Thanks for a fascinating trip through two different worlds and an introduction to some memorable characters. I’d like one taste of Moroccan mint tea. Though only one sip as I’ve got about 10 pounds to go in my diet! A-