Book Review – Sea of Shadows by Amy Maroney

With the first few paragraphs of Sea of Shadows by Amy Maroney the reader steps into the reality of fifteenth century Rhodes – the heat and shadows, the swirl of myriad scents and colours, the bustle of the city and the port, the people drawn from countless nations, all under the control of the of Knights of St. John.

Anica Foscolo is a gifted artist who, as her father’s sight is failing, is doing far far more than merely preparing the backgrounds to his paintings, as most assume. She is also facing the threat of marriage to the spoilt arrogant son of one of her father’s customers, a man her father is deeply in debt to. As her father’s sight worsens, Anica is forced into an alliance with Drummond Fordun, a Scottish privateer whose brutal skills are highly valued by the Knights of St John. In normal circumstances, their paths would never cross but to their surprise and consternation each is drawn to the other.

The dangers to Anica and her family’s wellbeing are clear from the first chapter. Initially unspoken, they are shown subtly through characters’ actions and as much by what they do not say as what is said. Threat builds through the story, encompassing not only Anica’s fears for her father’s sight and the possible unwanted marriage but also through the constraints of the society they live in, as well as the demands of the Grand Master of the Knights of St John and the dangers of war and international politics.

Both Anica and Drummond are likeable and their developing relationship is plausible and in keeping with their times. All characters are well rounded, even the more minor, their personalities and histories revealed naturally as the narrative develops, explaining too why at times they press at the boundaries of what is expected of them. In the same way, the complexities of politics, business and war on an island controlled by the Knights of St John are threaded through the story, showing how these impinged on the daily lives of ordinary people without the reader ever losing sight of the main characters and how the machinations of those with power and influence affected them.

This is my favourite type of historical fiction – a story that can be told in no other time and place, with fictional characters placed within an exquisitely described historical setting, enhanced by a touch of romance. Like a skilfully woven tapestry, it is a play light and shadow, in places highlighted with shining filament. Sea of Shadows is a beautifully-written, vivid and compelling novel.

Sea of Shadows is the second book in Amy Maroney’s Sea and Stone Chronicles but it can be read as a standalone novel.

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