Good morning folks! Apologies for my silence lately but I’ve got all kinds of balls in the air at the moment. So to make up for it, today’s post is a long one but very good. I’ll be reviewing the Serpent’s Tooth Trilogy with excerpts from the books and you’ll also hear from the author, Kathy Fischer-Brown, on how she did research for the subject matter. It all makes for an interesting read so grab that cup of coffee and get comfortable.
Lord Esterleigh’s Daughter (Book 1)
As a child, Anne Fairfield dreams of the father she never knew, the hero who died fighting the French and their Indian allies in a land across the sea. Her mother’s stories, and fantasies of her own devising, sustain and nurture her through a poor and lonely existence. Until one winter night, a strange man comes to call, and the life she has known comes crashing down like shattered glass.
Forced to confront sordid truths, secrets and lies, the headstrong young woman begins to learn that, like generations of women ruled by their hearts, she is destined to follow in their footsteps.
Set against the backdrop of 18th century England, Lord Esterleigh’s Daughter is the first book in “The Serpent’s Tooth” trilogy, which follows Anne from the rural countryside, to London society and into the center of the American Revolution.
“Are you hurt?” He bent toward her.
She flinched away. “No thanks to you, I think I’ve escaped permanent injury.” She turned her eyes on him, a glowering look that held a trace of fear.
The look took him aback. “Forgive me, I was afraid that you—”
Her eyes softened, a rush of color surged in her cheeks. She turned away, as if embarrassed. “Is it your custom to go around sneaking up on people?” She rose gingerly, flexing her left ankle.
“To be quite truthful, it’s not.” He smiled sheepishly and scrambled to his feet. “Is it your custom to go climbing over walls?” He found her shoes in the grass and deferentially offered them to her. “Sensible people would use the gate.”
“Perhaps I’m not sensible!” Without a word of gratitude, she snatched the offering from him and winced as she slipped her left foot into the boot. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I must go.”
She hurried off, but soon moderated her pace to a hobbling limp. He followed with caution.
“Stealing off to see the old witch, are you?” Relief coursed through him that she had not seriously injured herself.
She stopped and half-looked up at him, a flickering smile spreading over her full, ripe mouth. “Hetty Powell is not a witch!”
“I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” he teased. “And I wouldn’t make it a habit of calling upon her without an escort. Old witches have a special fondness for saucy young maids. Feed ’em lots of tea and biscuits, they do…soften ’em up, make ’em sweet and tender!”
She looked up at him fully. “Are you offering me your protection?”
The candor expressed in her voice and those clear, violet eyes left him momentarily speechless. “I wish only to accompany you.”
“You are an ill-mannered young man!”
“And you’re an impetuous young woman. You’ll not go far on that ankle.”
“That remains to be seen!” She turned from him and walked lamely away.
“I can’t help feeling responsible,” he called out and hurriedly overtook her.
“You are responsible!”
“What possessed you to climb that wall?”
“It’s none of your concern.”
“An impressive display of skill and daring, I must say.”
“Indeed! Not to mention agility and—”
Anne stopped suddenly and gazed hard at his face. A shiver of apprehension vibrated up her spine. For all his seeming sincerity, he was not to be trusted. Surely he would find a way to return her to the hall and inform her father of her attempted flight. “What do you want? Why must you pester me so?”
His gaze turned searching, steady. His voice was almost pleading. “Allow me to walk with you and I’ll promise not to speak another word.”
An uncomfortable heat rose in her face. She glanced away. “Then I might as well walk alone,” she said softly.
Date Published: 8/31/2012
Courting the Devil (BOOK #2 May contain spoilers)
Four years after a near fatal blunder uproots her from her home and inheritance, Anne Darvey, daughter of the Marquess of Esterleigh, finds herself an indentured servant on a farm near Fort Edward in New York, as the British army advances toward Albany. Driven by guilt over the pain she has caused her father and grief over her lover’s death, she sets out to deliver a message. The consequences lead to the discovery that all is not as it seems, and sets in motion events that lead to love and danger.
Set against the backdrop of the American Revolution, Courting the Devil is the second book in “The Serpent’s Tooth” trilogy, which follows Anne from her childhood in the rural English countryside, to London society, and into the center of the American Revolution.
His memory had not failed him. Summer nights were infinitely cooler by the pond near the creek. Brighter as well, with milky flashes of light reflecting off its smooth surface and a riot of fireflies darting among the reeds, twinkling over the water like so many stars. Had there been a moon, it would have floated on the water, sending glimmers of light up to the treetops.
He would have seen her then by moonlight.
Rather it was the dull light of the ill-smelling flame of his lamp that revealed her there at the edge of the pond in the tall grass, sitting in nothing but her damp shift, her back against the trunk of a sycamore, as she applied a towel to her hair. Had he’d arrived moments earlier, he might have seen her emerge, dripping from the creek like some water nymph. He paused where he stood and watched for a moment, then he cleared his throat and continued closer.
The brush crackled under his feet. He slowed his steps when she turned, a startled look on her face, her fingers frozen in the wild tangle of thick, dark hair tumbling over her shoulders and down the length of her back. At the sight of him, she quickly covered her chest with crossed arms.
Harris hesitated, holding up the lamp so that its light revealed his face, causing her to blink into the brightness. “No reason for alarm,” he reassured, and hung the lamp on a bough just above her head. “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
She turned away and on her knees quickly gathered up the objects spread out on a towel in the grass. He leaned on his hand against the tree, and regarded her with interest. In the light of the swinging lamp, drops of water shimmered on her bare arms. The smell of milled soap with a hint of lavender emanated from her hair, mingling with her own sweet, warm scent on the heavy air. Though coarsely made, her damp chemise clung to her like second skin, revealing the soft, round contours of a supple body. He imagined his hands holding her close, the feel of her, lithe and wet, against him, and fought back the stirring in his groin.
He licked his lips. “I didn’t expect to find anyone here at this hour of the night. Forgive the intrusion, I–”
She glanced up at him, a look of uncertainty in her eyes, along with the flashing sky. “No need for apologies, sir. I was just about to leave.” She rolled her hairbrush and a small, well-used sliver of soap in its original paper wrapper into the frayed huckaback towel. After slipping into her shoes, she snatched the coarse-woven skirt and linen bodice from the low bough from which she had hung them. Having wrapped everything in the skirt, she rose with the grace of a goddess and turned toward the path back to the house, the bundle clasped to her breast.
He stepped away from the tree and blocked her escape. She halted just short of him, but did not avert her eyes from the ground before her. “I wish you wouldn’t go,” Harris said through the dryness in his mouth.
Maintaining her focus on the dark path beyond the circle of light cast by his Betty lamp, she drew in a slow breath. In spite of the heat, she shivered. “There is nothing to keep me, sir.”
He laughed softly. “I hope that was not meant to be a gibe at my vanity?”
She shook back the mane of dark, wet hair that had fallen over her face, but kept her eyes averted. “It was not my intention to appear so bold.”
“Then I’m very much relieved!” His gaze wandered over her wet, scantily clad form, at the soft rise of her breasts before they disappeared under the cover of her infringing bundle. “But I forget myself. It is your modesty and virtue that–”
“Excuse me, Mr. Harris. It’s been a long day, and I’m tired.”
“It’s too hot to sleep. I thought I would—”
“You needn’t explain yourself. Not to me, sir. Now, if you will kindly let me pass …”
“You don’t like me, do you?”
At that she raised her eyes fully upon his face with a slow and deliberate stare, as if the impulse to look at him had been spontaneous and she resisted its appeal with all the self-control at her disposal. “My feelings are of no consequence, Mr. Harris,” she said in a soft voice, devoid of expression.
“But you do have them. Are you dismissing them as insignificant, or is it that you have no desire to discuss things of a personal nature?” Her soft, full lips were enticing. Even in the sweltering night air, the heat emanating from her body wrapped around him like a caress.
“If you really must know, sir, I have no time for such diversions.”
“Nor anything else, I dare say.” Fighting the urge to clasp her to him and taste her mouth, he stepped aside to let her pass. “You push yourself far too hard. It’s a sure sign.”
Just beyond the spill of light from the hanging lamp, Annie stopped and raised her head. For a long while she stood in silence, as if waiting for him to speak.
He sensed he had struck a nerve. “A sure sign of what, you might ask. Then again, I would be presuming to know your mind, which, I assure I do not… All right then, I’ll tell you. I notice things about people who labor for a living, Miss Annie.” He stepped toward her, outside the circle of dingy light. “Those who work for their own subsistence tend to perform their duties with an honorable sense of purpose. For when successfully accomplished, the task at hand yields its own reward. From my own observations, I’ve also noted that those who are obligated to toil in the service of others tend to do only that which is expected of them. No more, no less.” He paused. Again the sky flickered, revealing her standing with her back to him, head lowered. “Where rewards are few, there is nothing to be gained by working one’s self to an early grave. That would leave one unable to savor the freedom earned by such senseless toil.”
She turned slowly and swept his face with her gaze. “Do you not work for your living, Mr. Harris?” In her soft voice, he detected a note of challenge.
“I am a schoolmaster, Miss Annie.” And then he vacillated, his mouth twitching into a smile. “I was a schoolmaster…until I lost all my students! For the life of me I can’t fathom why…” She did not appear moved by his attempted levity. “But, no, I never had a reason to earn a living. My father was…well-connected.”
Her eyes shimmered in the darkness. “It is said, Mr. Harris, that the Devil finds work for idle hands.”
He laughed softly. “It is also said, Miss Annie, that to speak of the Devil is to court his presence.”
She lowered her face until shadows once more enveloped her features, her hands tightening around the bundle. “If that is so, then I hope he finds me busy. Good night, Mr. Harris.” She vanished quietly into the darkness.
Date Published: 2/6/2013
The Partisan’s Wife (BOOK #3 May contain spoilers)
Faced with an impossible choice, Anne Marlowe is torn between her husband’s love and the hope of her father’s forgiveness. As American forces follow up on their tide-turning victories over the British at Freeman’s Farm and Bemis Heights, Peter is drawn deeper into the shady network of espionage that could cost them both their lives.
Is his commitment to “the Cause” stronger than his hard-won love for Anne? Will her sacrifice tear them apart again…this time forever? Or will they find the peace and happiness they both seek in a new beginning?
The Partisan’s Wife follows Anne and Peter through the war torn landscape of Revolutionary War America, from the Battle of Saratoga to British-occupied New York and Philadelphia, and beyond.
At last, she stopped pacing and leaned against the wall, arms crossed over her breast. “My God, Peter! How could you?”
He forced a sheepish smile but made no attempt to answer.
“You lied to me! Shipping trade indeed!”
“I swear I never lied.”
“Half-truths, then!” She pushed away from the wall. “‘I’m finished here. I’m done with that!’ Why didn’t I see?”
“LeClair will find a way out of this.”
She looked at him in challenge. The candle flame shone in the mirror of her eyes. “You seem so assured.”
“I have the utmost confidence in LeClair. When he returns, we’ll ferry across the river into Paulus Hook. We’ll be safe in New Jersey.”
He stood and regarded her, his mouth a taut line. “Didn’t you say in no uncertain terms that you wished to go to Philadelphia?”
“I never said I wished to go. I said I had to go.”
He paused for a long moment. “You know I can’t go with you.”
“You can’t come with me…?” she said with astonishing composure. “Or, more precisely, you won’t come.”
“I can’t.” He reached for her hand; she yanked it away. “I can’t go with you.”
“Why? So that you may continue to play at your little game of masquerade and intrigue, exposing yourself to danger? For what purpose? Have you no concern for my—”
“You are not the only one blessed with a cause!” He glared at her. “It would appear that we are each compelled to do as our conscience dictates.”
Steadily she met his gaze through the candle light. “And if you could come with me…?”
Her wide-eyed face betrayed her apprehension, as though she already knew his answer yet hoped against hope for the response she longed to hear. It could have been so simple to play along and accommodate her wishes and, for her sake, make promises he could never keep. For his own sake, he chose not to respond.
In book 1, Annie finds that the father she’d grown up believing was a war hero who died in battle is actually an English lord who abandoned her mother because his family didn’t approve of the match only to return 16 years later as her mother lay upon her deathbed. She’s made to promise her mother she’d go with him to Esterleigh Hall and to try to love him but this is a tall order. While already dealing with her resentment for the mythical hero turned louse, she also must contend with the bitter ex-wife and a disinherited brother as well as learning and adapting to the heartless, cutthroat ways of London Society. To further complicate matters, she loses her heart to a dashing young servant who’s bound for America in order earn his fortune and be worthy of her hand. In book 2, Annie is kidnapped by what is essentially her wicked stepmother and shipped off to a farm in Upstate New York where she toils as an indentured slave during the American Revolutionary War. With the farm being right smack in the middle of the battlefield, Annie takes the opportunity to escape and seek out the best friend of her sweetheart. In book 3, ties up all the lose ends left in the first two books as Annie finds herself embroiled in the rebellion thanks to her husband, Peter, while at the same time trying to find her estranged father after discovering he had traveled to New York to find her.
It’s difficult to review a series because I don’t like to drop any spoilers but I found The Serpent’s Tooth Trilogy to be a very interesting series. It isn’t often you find an author tackling the subject matter of the American Revolutionary War in this way and it was very nicely done. Katy Fischer-Brown immerses you into the time period and you learn a lot of little details about life in the 18th century without bogging down the story itself. Although each book is a bit slow to start, the pace isn’t excruciating and it really is worth waiting for the story to pick up. Once it does, well…
Researching the Historical Novel Then and Now
When I started writing seriously in the dark age before computers, researching the historical period in which I had chosen to set my books was no easy task. The local library didn’t always have a particular resource on its reference shelves and if the book was long out of print, it was unavailable at any cost (no Alibris back then). Inter-library loan was the only way to go and even that didn’t always pan out. Travel was not always possible, especially on a limited budget. Letters to experts was a practical resource, as were phone calls, but in the days before the breakup of Ma Bell, calls from Indiana to New York were expensive.
Today, those same resources and more are just a few key strokes away. Many of the same research materials I used to wait weeks for have been scanned and uploaded to the web. In addition, there are hosts of fabulous materials I would never have dreamed of back then. Old maps and documents, in addition to diaries and other first-hand accounts are all available online if you know how to find them.
When I pulled “The Serpent’s Tooth” trilogy out of mothballs and dusted it off for an overhaul, I found myself tapping in to these resources. With all of the material I was able to find, I scrapped entire portions of the story in favor of rewrites based on information I was able to discover.
As a native New Yorker, I was especially fascinated to learn of the vast changes that made Manhattan what it is today. From street names to the layout of the streets themselves as the population grew and expanded north of Wall Street, the old city of the mid-eighteenth century can no longer be found. There are a few photographs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries of long-gone buildings from the period and some extraordinary descriptions in old books. Paintings and maps of the period also give us glimpses. Land fill long ago altered the shape of lower end of the island (where the Dutch established their first settlement in North America on land inhabited by the Native Americans who lived and hunted there). Creeks and streams, hills and forests were plentiful on Manhattan, serving the hosts of indigenous animals that made their homes there. The creeks, streams and fresh water ponds were later filled in, becoming (to name just one) Canal Street.
Street names were especially interesting. During and after the Revolution, many streets, such as King Street, King George Street, and Queen Street, were renamed, remapped, and/or rerouted. Today you’ll find Pine, William, and Pearl Streets. In The Partisan’s Wife, the area in which Peter and Anne’s house stood, then called Wynne (or Winne) Street between Bayard’s Lane and St. Nicholas Street, is now Mott Street in the heart of Chinatown, which was basically unsettled in the mid-part of the 18th century as was pretty much everything to the north. The West Village was farmland and rolling hills. Many streets and avenues in old New York evolved from long driveways belonging to huge mansions with gardens, orchards, and expansive lawns. For example, the long drive that belonged to the Bayard homestead in the late 1700s was for a time called Bayard’s Lane. It’s now part of Broome Street on the Lower East Side.
Unfortunately, few buildings from the period remain standing on lower Manhattan — Fraunces Tavern and St. Paul’s Chapel being a couple of exceptions — as a multitude of fires and later human development over the next century or so led to the destruction of pre-Revolutionary War era buildings…many in the name of progress.
To write historical fiction is, to a large extent, to live there for a while and become comfortable with the clothes, attitudes, and customs of the time. It’s also my desire to take the reader along and hope they enjoy the journey.
As a child Kathy wanted to be a writer when she grew up. She also wanted to act. After receiving an MFA in Acting and playing the part of starving young artist in New York, she taught theater classes at a small college in the Mid-West before returning home to the East Coast, where over the years, she and her husband raised two kids and an assortment of dogs. During stints in advertising, children’s media publishing, and education reform in the former Soviet Unions, she wrote whenever she could. Her love of early American history has its roots in family vacations up and down the East Coast visiting old forts and battlefields and places such as Williamsburg, Mystic Sea Port, and Sturbridge Village. At the same time, she daydreamed in history classes, imagining the everyday people behind all the dates and conflicts and how they lived.
Claiming her best ideas are born of dreams, Kathy has written a number of stories over the years. Her first published novel, Winter Fire, a 1998 Golden Heart finalist in historical romance, was reissued in 2010 by Books We Love, Ltd.
When not writing, she enjoys reading, cooking, photography, playing “ball” with the dogs, and rooting on her favorite sports teams.
BooksWeLove (Publiisher) : http://www.bookswelove.net/kathyfischerbrown.php
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