My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Better known as fantasy writer Jude Fisher, Jane Johnson tries her hand at historical fiction with The Tenth Gift. The two protagonists are embroiderers, separated by four centuries, but there’s no time travel in this tale. Julia Lovat’s married lover, Michael, has dumped her, hoping to ease the pain with a parting gift, a 17th century needlework book. In addition to patterns, “The Needlewoman’s Glorie” contains a sort of diary, written by Catherine (Cat) Tregenna in 1625. The Tenth Gift takes place now, with Julia setting off to “find” Cat, and also in 1625, when Cat is swept away into the adventure of a lifetime.
Julia’s antagonists are her own conflicted emotions about Michael, Michael himself, who wants his book back, and the dangers she faces when she travels alone to Africa on her quest. Cat’s are more daunting; hers come in the form of Barbary pirates, who capture her and more than fifty of her neighbors as they attend Sunday services, to sell into slavery. Cat’s story is the more compelling one, being more dramatic than Julia’s, but each woman must come to terms with who she is and what she wants, and finally to identify what is most important in her life. Set in Cornwall and Morocco, this novel contains plenty of historical detail, and is based upon actual events, though the main characters are fictional. I enjoyed the story, but somehow, since it never truly mattered to me what happened to Cat or Julia, reading it was more intellectual exercise than breathtaking saga.