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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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07/02/2006 Archived Entry: "Book Review: Virgin Earth"

Virgin Earth
By Philippa Gregory
Published by Touchstone Books

Review by Kathryn Ramage

1638. John Tradescant, gardener to King Charles I, is sent on a mission to the New World to gather samples of rare and unusual plants. To navigate the wilderness beyond the Virginia colony settlement and tobacco farms, John hires Suckahanna, a young girl of the Powhatan tribe, as a guide. When he returns to England with his gathered specimens, he leaves behind the girl, nominally his wife for her protection against the advancing settlers. He arrives home to find that his father has died, a marriage of convenience has been arranged for him, and his country is headed for Civil War.

1643. After accompanying King Charles around England as a loyal Royalist, in spite of his feelings to the contrary, John finds himself in an increasingly difficult and dangerous political position. His only choice is to retreat to the New World, leaving his wife and children behind. John's survival in the Virginia wilderness seems doubtful at first, until he meets Suckahanna again, now a grown woman.

It's a very long, but a pretty good historical romance. Not a bodice ripped or swash unbuckled. John Tradescant travels back and forth several times between colonial Virginia and Civil War England over the course of the story, which ends in 1660 and the reign of Charles II. Ms Gregory gives us an interesting picture of the Jamestown settlement in Virginia developing from ramshackle huts at the edge of a vast and unknown wilderness to a place with gardens (and how this new civilization encroaches more and more harshly on the Powhatans every time John returns). We are also given a picture of the political turmoil of the Cavalier vs. Roundhead conflict, from the point of view of a man caught between the two.

But there's one thing that I simply couldn't get over in the 660 pages of this novel: Suckahanna-? Who would seriously give their heroine such a name?

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