So I missed a couple of posts. Oops! Reasons? I was knackered, lots going on, blah blah blah. Anyhow. I am back with a bumper post, and I’m still going to get through all the books I read last year by the end of the month – there’s just gonna be quite a few posts close together..!
A note for all of these reviews coming up though – I have to get into a better habit of writing reviews soon after finishing a book. Otherwise, I lose some of the specific details to describe why I loved / hated certain things, because I’m all wrapped up in whatever I’m reading now…
Ann Turnbull’s Quaker series consist of No Shame, No Fear, Forged in the Fire, and Seeking Eden.
I’ve had the first in this trilogy for years. I was about fifteen when I found it in a discount bookshop in Chester, which has since sadly closed down. Initially, I was interested because it was set in Shropshire, where I grew up, and then by the subject matter. I like historical fiction, but I had never read about Quaker history before. I had only heard about Quaker history as a footnote to the stories of other groups.
I reread that first book quite a lot over the years, but I had no idea there were sequels. I stumbled across the next book, Forged in the Fire, quite by accident in the town library a few years later. I honestly can’t remember whether I read it then or not, which is why I’m counting both the second and third books as ‘new’ reads in my total for 2015, – if I did, I didn’t remember any of the major plot points!
Catchup: The first book follows Susanna Thorn, a young woman from a Quaker family (or, as they call themselves, Friends of Truth) who leaves her home village of Long Aston to work in the Shropshire town of Hemsbury in 1662, as a maid for stationer and bookseller Mary Faulkner. Also living in Hemsbury is Will Heywood – the Anglican-raised son of a town alderman and self-made cloth merchant. The story follows Will’s conversion to her faith, the development of their relationship, and demonstrates the way Quakers have historically been treated in this country. It is full of warmth and sensitive social commentary. It is well written historical fiction – and it is fiction, because these are characters, not historical figures, but the challenges they face and the maltreatment they receive are historical facts. The people of the time were subject to the laws and treatment depicted – and it’s something I knew nothing about until I read this book.
Obviously it’s tricky to talk about the two sequels to this book without some spoilers for the first. The second follows on from where we left the characters with a gap of three years. I loved revisiting them, especially given how rare it is for a YA book with characters in their teens (albeit historical teens) to follow them through into adulthood. The major historical events that Forged in the Fire covers are pretty easy to guess – it takes place in 1665 and 1666. And, yknow, the title isn’t hiding anything. I really enjoyed the exploration of this from another perspective though. This book also really developed on what I loved about the original – the development of their relationship and the examinations of social privilege. The only thing I missed was the absence of Mary Faulkner, who is a character I love. I loved seeing through the many uncertainties that Will and Susannah accepted at the end of No Shame, No Fear, and the many different directions they went in. I loved seeing a character I strongly looked up to as a teenager grow up and figure out where she wanted to be as an adult.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite so fond of the third book, Seeking Eden, which while it does follow Will and Susannah, does so tangentially, and is narrated by their eldest son Jonah. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it a lot – it widened its frame of reference from Britain, from the experience of Friends, much further. But, for me, it felt jarring with the other books. I enjoyed it, but I’m definitely fonder of the first two.