Brenda Rickman Vantrease returns to the English civil war in A Far Horizon. Like the first book in the series, The Queen’s Promise, the new novel explores the way people somehow manage to carry on, even as their country is being torn apart.
As the second installment of Vantrease’s “Broken Kingdom” series begins, there is little hope for a peaceful ending of the sectarian strife tearing England apart. Queen Henrietta, the first of Vantrease’s tryptic of protagonists, is again pregnant. Her husband, King Charles, is ignoring her counsel about the war; instead, he sends her to France for her safety. Although she has at least as much of the warrior’s spirit as her husband has, she follows his command, leaving behind her newborn and the two older children, from whom she was also separated in the earlier novel in the series. In France, she is pampered but left out of any true role in the war.
Lucy Hay, the book’s second protagonist, is also in a state of flux. She has only recently returned the royal children to their mother, and now she has been asked to take them again after the queen flees to France. While her own loyalties in the war may waver, she is a true protector of the children. But once again she is without a protector of her own: her lover, John Pym, the Protestant leader, is stricken ill.
Caroline Pendleton, the final protagonist, has come to London to claim the house of her husband, who was killed earlier in the war, but finds that ownership has little meaning in wartime. The only thing that matters now is what side you’re on, and her husband was a Royalist. She is allowed to stay in one small room of the house as long as she cooks for Parliament’s soldiers. For Caroline, though, matters are not totally bleak. She is reunited with her stepson, Ben, who lost an arm fighting on Parliament’s side. And Ben himself has found true love.
Once again Vantrease doesn’t shy away from the horrors of war. Caroline witnesses the execution of an archbishop: “But no matter how hard she pressed her hands against her ears, she could not stop the jeers and cheers of the crowd when the axe fell. A great moaning of bagpipes joined the chants and shouts as the bloody head was lifted high. For one flashing moment she thought this must be what Hell was like.” She also learns that one of her favorite soldiers has died, not in battle but in an act of decimation, a practice in which every tenth soldier is summarily killed by his commander: “Just lined them up and counted them off. No trial. No defense.”
By the novel’s end, all three of Vantrease’s protagonists are trying to decide how to live in the world that has been created out of this war: to remain though in exile, to leave for the New World, or to escape to an old home. No matter the choice, none of them will emerge unscathed.
Faye Jones, dean of learning resources at Nashville State Community College, writes the Jolly Librarian blog for the college’s Mayfield Library. She earned her doctorate in nineteenth-century literature at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.