A historical novel about a woman who lives a quiet life in Cornwall with her fisherman father, until a series of strangers and events lead her to Venice and a possible inheritance. 1971.
Whew! Let’s see if I remember how to write a book review.
Some of you may have noticed my absence this past month, and here’s why I’ve been gone: first, I was in Europe traveling with my family. We visited Italy, Greece, Turkey, Croatia, and Slovenia (yep, better pull up Google for that one). On this trip, I also figured out what I want to do with my life, which was a HUGE relief, as I’ve been floundering a bit since graduating from college. So, since I finally got the “what” of my life figured out, I’ve been busy sorting out the “where” and “how” parts. For the moment I’m back with my folks in Texas, and within a month I’ll be relocating to the mid-Atlantic region.
So yes, big changes in my life, and lots of them, all happening at once…and in spite of everything I’ve managed to do some reading!
For our stay in Venice I specifically sought out some Venice-based literature. Luckily, since I’d just read and loved Golden Urchin, Madeleine Brent was fresh on my mind and I didn’t have to look too far for that special Venice book.
Tregaron’s Daughter starts in Cornwall, where our protagonist Cadi lives with her father, a fisherman. They live generally quiet lives, until one day Cadi is by their cottage and happens to look out into the bay. What she sees is a man on a small boat, which in itself is nothing special…except that this is a treacherous bay that the locals know to avoid under any circumstances.
This man on the boat is clearly a stranger, then, and what’s more, Cadi immediately perceives that he is in danger. She takes off running, seeking help from her father and enlisting a stranger on horseback in the process. The three of them row madly out to the distressed man in the boat, hoping not to be killed themselves during the rescue. Cadi shows her competence, her concern for the life of this stranger, and her not inconsiderable willpower.
In case you’ve never read this author’s work, Madeleine Brent (who was actually a man) creates some really able-bodied, gutsy, clear-headed female protagonists. Brent’s protagonists, such as Cadi Tregaron in Tregaron’s Daughter, are what make his books stand out in the historical fiction genre. Sure, I’ve encountered other praiseworthy female protagonists in historical fiction—Sara Dane and Kitty of Each Bright River come immediately to mind—but Brent’s truly occupy a class of their own.
All right, back to the plot: when Cadi earns our respect during this rescue operation, she also earns the respect and gratitude of the man whom she helps save. He’s an older man, roughly her father’s age, and the man develops a fatherly concern for this compassionate Cornish girl.
The stranger on the horseback, also part of the rescue operation, is actually the man’s nephew. The nephew comes across as a bit haughty, and for a while he fades into the background of the story.
After a few days in Cadi’s village, the strangers go back home, but before they leave, the rescued man impresses upon Cadi that if she’s ever in need of help, just as he was in such dire need of help, she should not hesitate to contact him. He would be most eager to be of any possible assistance to her, whatever the circumstances.
Unfortunately, Cadi actually does have to call upon him for help. (But I won’t tell you when or why!) She requests a small amount of monetary help from him, and he responds by showing up at her door, ready to completely take her under his benevolent (and financial) wing. And thus Cadi is transformed overnight from a fisherman’s daughter into a young lady of the English upper classes, circa 1910.
In time, and with the support of her benefactor, Cadi unravels a mystery regarding her Italian grandmother’s heritage. The moderately Gothic mystery (which I also won’t give away) takes Cadi to Venice, where she may or may not be an heiress to a title and a fortune…and she may or may not live to inherit them. Along the way, there’s that handsome but distant nephew, popping in and out of the picture, never clearly either a hero or a villain.
Like in Golden Urchin, our heroine is transported from her old life into a new, very different life, but her skills from the past are unexpectedly vital to her survival in that new life. I love Brent’s competent heroines! I love that they have the handsome hero nearby, but the hero only come to the “rescue” once the heroine has actually done most of her own rescuing. Boom! Now that’s the way to do it. Teamwork, people.
Okay, okay, I could rave on and on about my love for these ladies. I have to say that I found Golden Urchin to be an all around stronger and unique book, but Tregaron’s Daughter is still definitely worth a read. The mystery part of the plot is complex and difficult to unravel until the very end of the book. And if you’ve ever been to Venice, hope to someday visit Venice, or even happen to be in Venice right now, Tregaron’s Daughter is wonderfully evocative of the city.
As a freebie, I’m throwing in a trip photo! And if anyone can recommend another little-known, old-ish book set in Venice, please do share! It really is such a special place.