The Cornish Captive is the sixth novel in the author’s Cornish Saga series. I have only read one previous book in the series – The Cornish Lady – but although some characters feature in more than one book it’s not essential to have read all the earlier books in order to enjoy this one. Don’t be put off by the list of characters at the beginning of the book either as some appear only briefly or are not key to the plot. However the family trees are very useful, especially as a few of the surnames are similar.
The book’s focus is Madeleine’s attempts to bring to justice the person she believes to be responsible for her false imprisonment. However the backdrop is the French Revolution. (Cleverly, the book is divided into three parts – Liberté, Équalité and Fraternité.) As a member of an aristocratic French family, Madeleine’s sympathies are Royalist but Pierre de la Croix, the French captain she meets is a Republican, a prisoner of the British and someone who should be a sworn enemy. However, who can blame Madeleine for being drawn to the handsome Pierre, especially when he has the knack of being conveniently on hand whenever Madeleine’s safety is threatened. But given her previous experience of men and her conviction that ‘All men lied’, can she learn to trust again?
The author captures with insight Madeleine’s feelings following her release from imprisonment. Yes, she is relieved to be free but she finds herself overwhelmed by the physical sensations of open skies and fresh air after so long in darkness and confinement. ‘To be free… The air was so fresh it almost hurt to breathe, yet I gulped lungfuls of the salty air, laughing, crying, blinded by the brilliance of the sun’s reflection.’ She also bears the physical and emotional scars of her ill treatment.
With Britain at war with France, Madeleine finds herself drawn into the world of spies and secret agents. I’ll be honest I got a bit confused about who was spying for which side and their various aliases. However, it all gets wrapped up neatly at the end of the book.
A heart-warming side story is that of Rowan, the young girl who was the only person to show Madeleine any kindness during her time in the mad house and who accompanies Madeleine to Fosse after she makes her escape. A nice touch later in the book is how the community of Fosse come together to support a character who, because of their nationality and political allegiance, should provoke hostility. Instead kind acts and generosity of spirit overcome the prejudice that might have been expected. A lesson there for us all.
Having visited Cornwall on many occasions, I’m always drawn to books set in that lovely county. The author skilfully conveys the rugged beauty of the Cornish landscape with descriptions of coastal meadows covered in wildflowers. I enjoyed the scenes of the bustling quayside of Fosse which reminded me of Fowey, with Polruan only a ferry ride away.
Combine a beautiful location with a romantic storyline, add spies, subterfuge, a secret diary, some close escapes, the reunion of long lost family members and an engaging, feisty heroine and you have all the ingredients you need for an enjoyable historical novel.