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A Divided Inheritance by Deborah Swift

A Divided Inheritance (2013)

by Deborah Swift

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Deborah Swift's latest novel, A Divided Inheritance, transports the reader back to early 17th century London, England and Seville, Spain. The story opens in London, where Elspeth Leviston lives with her father, a lace merchant. Believing that she will carry on the business after her father dies, Elspeth's assumption is put to the test when Zachary Deane, a man claiming to be her cousin, shows up at her home and is taken under the wing of her father. While Elspeth's father is determined to teach Zachary everything he needs to know about the lace trade, Zachary doesn't prove to be the most dependable of pupils. In an effort to force him to mature, Elspeth's father sends Zachary on a grand tour of Europe. Soon after Zachary leaves, however, Elspeth's father suddenly passes away, leaving her with an uncertain future and tying her to Zachary in a way she never imagined. Determined to force Zachary to give back what she feels is rightfully hers, Elspeth sets off for Spain to find her cousin. But life in Spain proves to be more demanding and dangerous than either Elspeth or Zachary imagined, and they soon find themselves caught up in events well beyond their control.

One of my favourite things about this novel is that it is rife with historical detail. It is obvious Swift put a good deal of research went into the writing of this book. This research is never just dumped into the story; it is skillfully woven into the narrative. As a result, the detail enhances the reading experience and helps to make the reader feel as if they are living events of the novel right alongside the story's protagonists. The novel's characters are another strong point. All characters, whether they be primary or secondary, possess significant depth. Elspeth and Zachary in particular, the novel's principal characters, are well-drawn and developed. While it is obvious from the outset that Elspeth possesses a quiet strength that will serve her well in troubled times, Zachary initially comes across as an irresponsible and uncaring young man. Yet, despite his faults, Zachary isn't unlikeable. This ensures that the reader's sympathies don't lie solely with Elspeth.

Complementing the novel's main plotline is one that ties into the religious turmoil of early 17th century Spain. This component of the narrative focuses on the Ortega's, a family of Moriscos (Muslim converts to Christianity), whose lives and livelihoods are endangered by the rising threat of expulsion from Spain. Linking directly to Zachary and Elspeth's story, the plight of the Ortega family showcases the intolerance and destructive power of the Spanish Inquisition. Not being overly familiar with this period of Spanish history, this element of the book was not only interesting to read but also highly educational.

Despite coming in at over 500 pages, A Divided Inheritance doesn't feel long. Swift's prose is fluid and the narrative never drags, making the book difficult to put down. While A Divided Inheritance is the first of Deborah Swift's novels I've had the pleasure to read, it definitely won't be the last.

Highly recommended to fans of historical fiction, especially those interested in Jacobean England and/or Inquisition-era Spain.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Source: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. ( )
  Melissa_J | Jan 16, 2016 |
Book received as part of GoodReads FirstReads program in return for an honest review. Thanks for the book!

One word can best describe this book: wow! Such an incredible journey is a rare find. This book needs to be savored again and again in my humble opinion.

The star to me was Elspeth's journey. She's introduced to the reader as a woman focused on helping her father run his business, worship her faith as best she can, and seems content with her life. Yet, by the end of the novel, she's a different woman with different goals, a more broad view of the world, and a deeper understanding of herself as a woman. I found her journey complex and so intriguing that I pretty much lived this novel over the last few days. The author was able to bring Elspet's intelligence, drive, and self awareness to such vivid life; I feel like I changed and grew with her.

The historical details and world building... Oh my Lord, this reader was in heaven! Everything just shines with vivacity and vitality. I experienced the fading glory of Elspet's home, the rambunctiousness of her dogs (this owner of a 2 year old Corgi can so relate! XD), the hot dust of Inquisition Spain, the ring of steel in the sword training yard, and the glory of Seville laid out at my feet from an old and crumbling balcony. Deborah Swift has joined the ranks of authors that I know will transport me with skill and ease to another era and country. She's got an immense talent for this that I look forward to exploring in other works by her.

I liked reading some of the weighty themes she explores as well. The potent lessons about intolerance and how it can destroy a people and identity stayed with me. There were some scenes that dealt with religious intolerance, both in England and Spain, that echoed stories from the Holocaust I've read about. They made me shiver and just think about the state of the world then and now. Very powerful stuff.

My only gripe with this book, and it's a teensy one, would be a pacing issue. The story is slow to start and the first fourth of the book seems to move forward very slowly. However, once things pick up, it's a fast and furious journey of exploration and self discovery to the very end. Even the slow parts has some fantastic character exploration and world building in Jacobean England.

Overall, this book is a winner. Even though it had a bit of a slow start, I still feel like it deserves a solid five stars for the strong, strong showing in it's others parts. I enjoyed the vividness of the setting and time period. The characters breathed with life. I also learned from this book. All told, I look forward with anticipation to this author's other works. She'll be one I keep reading. ( )
  Sarah_Gruwell | Jan 12, 2016 |
Predominantly set during 1609-10 in England and Spain, this long novel is an absorbing read.

You can tell that unlike most other writers of historical fiction Deborah Swift has studied creative writing as well as history. Her plotting skills are superior to many of the bigger author names out there. I’m impressed with how expertly she crafted this lengthy tome.

Scenes/scenarios I especially liked include the training at the fencing school, the time Zachery – the lead male character – spends forging his own sword, the romantic development between Zachery and the Morisco woman Luisa, the strained non-sexual relationship between Elspet – the lead female character – and Zachery, plus all the intense moments of physical conflict.

All the above are presented in an engaging way, drawing the reader into the lives of these characters. The characters themselves are all believable. The main characters’ development reminded me of the Bildungsroman approach like in many nineteenth-century classics. I don’t know if this was Ms Swift’s intention, or if I’m way off the mark here, but either way it works well in my view.

Luisa was an interesting character. Nothing is one-dimensional about her. Same can be said of all the supporting cast, of which Luisa is arguably the best.

But the main characters are for me the best two overall. Zachery comes across very much as an anti-hero, appearing selfish and uncaring for others, yet something about him tells you he’s not all bad. I always find this type of character appealing.

In contrast, Elspet believes in doing what’s right, yet at the same time she’s not a do-gooder who comes across as sickly-sweet. I felt the most sympathy for Elspet whenever she had troubles, even though the Moriscos had harder times to endure.

My only dislike of this work was the amount of Spanish language and, to a lesser extent, French. I am pro-language learning, but believe that other than specific foreign names, places, and titles an English novel should be written in the English language only.

But overall this is another great novel by this talented author. ( )
  PhilSyphe | Feb 27, 2015 |
My third encounter with Deborah Swift’s writing, A Divided Inheritance, did not disappoint. In a superb integration of historical fact and plot, Deborah Swift masterfully interweaves family loyalty, religious intolerance, and adventure. We travel from lace making in rainy seventeenth century London where Catholicism is forbidden to Catholic-dominated Spain and fencing under the blistering sun.

Two very different main characters take us on their separate journeys. Elspeth’s dream is to continue her father’s lace making business. Troubled when mysterious cousin Zachary appears, she relaxes when her father sends him to Spain to participate in the Grand Tour in Seville. As disparate as the characters are, the book coalesces into an adventure you will not want to miss.

For this novel, Swift steps away from her beloved England. Her insight into the Inquisition and Spain are commendable. She nimbly achieves a cross-cultural perspective as the book moves through unexpected corridors to examine the tenacity of family loyalty.

Highly recommended. For more of Deborah Swift's superb historical fiction, see The Gilded Lily and The Lady's Slipper. ( )
  hollysing | Jul 5, 2014 |
A DIVIDED INHERITANCE is the first novel by Deborah Swift I’ve read, and I was impressed by the rich historical details. This book paints a vivid picture of the beauty and turbulence of 17th century Spain.

The story begins in London with Elspet Leviston working with her father in his lace business, fully believing she will inherit it someday. Suddenly a man named Zachary Deane appears at their door, and Mr. Leviston introduces him as her cousin. Soon Elspet is pushed aside and told to concentrate on “womanly pursuits” while Zachary is taught the lace business. Of course, she’s furious, and rightfully so.

The mysterious Zachary turns out to be an immature trouble-maker, and Elspet knows there’s something from his past he’s hiding. Before she can find out, Mr. Leviston sends Zachary on a “grand tour” of Europe in hopes that it will educate him and turn him into a proper gentleman. Unfortunately Elspet’s father dies soon after he departs, and she’s shocked to discover Zachary has inherited half of the lace business. Since she can’t do anything without Zachary’s approval, she sets off to find him, finally tracking him down in Seville, Spain. He’d abandoned his grand tour to take fencing lessons from a master swordsman while poor Elspet suffered. Luckily she was strong and determined, and willing to fight for what was hers.

A big part of this book focused on the horrific treatment of the Moors by the Spanish king. While Catholics in England were being oppressed, Muslims were the victims of religious persecution in Spain. For me, this was an eye-opening read.

There were a lot of characters to keep track of in this book, and at times Elspet and Zachary’s story got lost in the shuffle. Still, I was thrilled at the outcome of their inheritance squabble, and I was pleased at how Zachary’s character evolved over time.

A DIVIDED INHERITANCE is sure to please fans of well-researched, detailed historical fiction. And, maybe, just maybe, there’s an opening for a sequel?

Rating: 3.75 Stars

Source: Review copy provided for participating in the author's book tour. ( )
  bookofsecrets | Nov 15, 2013 |
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Elspet Leviston's greatest ambition is to continue the success of her father Nathaniel's lace business. But her dreams are thrown into turmoil with the arrival of her mysterious cousin Zachary Deane. Zachary is a dedicated swordsman with a secret past that seems to invite trouble. So Nathaniel sends him on a Grand Tour, away from the distractions of Jacobean London. Elspet believes herself to be free of her hot-headed relative but when Nathaniel dies her fortunes change dramatically. She is forced to leave her beloved home and go in search of Zachary - determined to claim back from him the inheritance that is rightfully hers.… (more)

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