Saturday 6 July 2019

#BookReview — Severed Knot by Cryssa Bazos #HistoricalFiction #HistoricalRomance @CryssaBazos

Severed Knot
By Cryssa Bazos

Barbados 1652.

In the aftermath of the English Civil War, the vanquished are uprooted and scattered to the ends of the earth.

When marauding English soldiers descend on Mairead O’Coneill’s family farm, she is sold into indentured servitude. After surviving a harrowing voyage, the young Irish woman is auctioned off to a Barbados sugar plantation where she is thrust into a hostile world of depravation and heartbreak. Though stripped of her freedom, Mairead refuses to surrender her dignity.

Scottish prisoner of war Iain Johnstone has descended into hell. Under a blazing sun thousands of miles from home, he endures forced indentured labour in the unforgiving cane fields. As Iain plots his escape to save his men, his loyalties are tested by his yearning for Mairead and his desire to protect her.

With their future stolen, Mairead and Iain discover passion and freedom in each other’s arms. Until one fateful night, a dramatic chain of events turns them into fugitives.

Together they fight to survive; together they are determined to escape. 

“Barbados. Call it hell and be done with it…”

They had been so convinced that they would take the enemy unaware. There was 16,000 of them. More than enough, or so they had thought. But Cromwell… He had foreseen everything, and now, Scotland was burning.

It would have been better if they had all died that day in the fields of Worcester. The alternative was a cold, damp cell riddle with diseases. But even that was better than being chained and dumped in a cargo hold while the ship rolled and danced a nauseating tune on the waves. Worse still, was being sold not for money but eight hundred pounds of sugar. It is true what they say; there are things worse than death.

They had not done anything wrong. They were women for goodness sake. The English soldiers had rounded them up like animals, branded them and then harried them onto a ship. This could not be happening. And yet, it was.

Ian Johnson had promised to stay with his men, his battalion, no matter what. He had also vowed to his men that he would find a way for them to escape the bonds of servitude and return to their beloved Scotland. However, he had no idea how he was going to make good on such a sacred promise.

Freedom had once meant snatching an hour to herself to play the violin. Now the word took on a whole new meaning. As the ship carried her farther away from her beloved Ireland, Mairead O’Coneill swore that one day she would return. After all, indentured servitude wasn’t a sentence for life. It would be hard, but they would survive. However, their future was bleak, for what else were women good for but the whorehouse? If they are ever to feel the soft rain of Ireland again on their faces, then they must learn to endure what is unendurable.

Filled with hatred and resentment, the last thing Ian wanted was to feel anything for the mousey young woman who had been sold to the same wealthy sugar plantation owners as he had. And yet, there was something about Mairead. Spared the whorehouse, she is put to work in the sugarcane fields. Ian unwittingly finds in Mairead a soothing balm to his tortured soul. She is his blessing. But she is also his curse, for there is no way he is leaving her at Mount Vale, regardless of what his men might say on the matter.

If they were to escape, then they would do so together...

From the cold, vermin-filled stinking cell in Tothill Fields Prison and the fir-scented mountain air of An Gallbhaie to the life of a slave at Mount Vale in Barbados, Severed Knot by Cryssa Bazos is the enthralling and unforgettable story of Ian and Mairead as they desperately try to cling to life in the face of unimaginable torment.

Severed Knot is one of those books that stays with you long after you have finished reading it. This is truly an unforgettable story. I thought Bazos’ debut novel, Traitor’s Knot, was fabulous, so fabulous that I awarded it The Coffee Pot Book Club Book Of The Year Award, 2017, but Severed Knot has surpassed all my expectations. Severed Knot is incredibly ambitious, tautly gripping, and an absolute triumph. I was totally blown away by this book. Bazos has penned not only a story with impressive sweep and brilliance, but one that mesmerises from the opening sentence until that last full stop. Severed Knot is a rare treasure indeed.

When one looks upon a man as he does a mule or a donkey, then the world has undoubtedly lost its way. Somewhere in the region of 8,000 to 10,000 Scottish prisoners were deported to New England, Bermuda and the West Indies to work as indentured servants to wealthy landowners. The conditions and treatment of indentured servants in the 17th century are often overshadowed by the horrors of the African slave trade. For those who are not familiar with the term, an indentured servant was one who signed a contract in which they agreed to work for a certain amount of time for free, and therefore calling these men and women “slaves” sometimes comes across as controversial especially when compared with the appalling treatment of the African slaves. However, Bazos asks a question that I think many historians who have studied this era have also asked, and that is, did 8,000+ Scottish prisoners willingly sign such a contract? Bazos explores the highly likely possibility that these prisoners did not even see such a contract, let alone sign it. They were slaves, be it temporary, and their treatment was appalling. If they survived the journey, they then had to endure the working conditions and illnesses such as Yellow Fever. All feared being transported to Barbados. Due to the harsh climate and cruel working conditions, Barbados was nothing short of a death sentence. Many of the Scottish prisoners who had the misfortune of being transported to Barbados never came home. Bazos has captured the horrors that awaited them in Barbados. Ian and his men are forced to work in the relentless heat. They are exposed to tropical illness, and on top of all that, there was the harsh and backbreaking work that they had to do on very little nourishment. Bazos has certainly painted a very bleak but incredibly realistic picture of what life on a Barbados plantation was like.

The horrors and the total lack of humanity that both Ian and Mairead face is truly harrowing, although I feared more for Mairead than I did Ian simply because she was a woman. Mairead endures great suffering, and there were moments when I feared she would break, and this is where, as a reader, I was so thankful for Ian’s character. Ian became Mairead's safe anchor in a world that was foreign. Ian is an unlikely protector as his main concern is getting his men home — this is what drives him and keeps him sane. He is a soldier, a brilliant strategist, and he knows that he should not get emotionally involved with Mairead, but he cannot help himself. Their love story set against such a disturbing backdrop made it in a way all the more real in the telling. Their love for each other was beautiful and more importantly, believable.

There are several antagonists in the tale, but I think it was the complete disrespect for human life that left me in tears on more than one occasion. And I am not just talking about the plantation owners and the overseer. Bazos portrays a hierarchy amongst the slaves. Instead of comradeship, as you would expect, there was a pecking order, and some of the slaves were as vile, if not more so, than their masters. But I am sure that this is how it was, and Bazos does not shy away from showing the worst side of human nature. However, Bazos also shows the best side too — the comradeship between Ian and his men. The tender love story between Ian and Mairead. Severed Knot is not just a story etched in despair. It is one in which hope also resides.

Words cannot do adequate justice to how great this book is. The historical detailing has to be commended. Bazos has brought 17th Century Barbados back to life, and her confident research shines through in every paragraph. This book is undoubtedly a real treat for readers who love historical fiction. If ever a book deserved to be made into a movie, it is this one.

I Highly Recommend.

Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.

Pick up your copy of
Severed Knot

Cryssa Bazos 

Cryssa Bazos is an award winning historical fiction author and 17th century enthusiast with a particular interest in the English Civil War. Her debut novel, Traitor's Knot, is published by Endeavour Media and was the Medalist winner of the 2017 New Apple Award (historical fiction), a finalist for the 2018 EPIC eBook Awards (historical romance) and a finalist for the RNA Joan Hessayon Award. Her second novel, The Severed Knot, was long listed for the 2018 HNS New Novel Award and will be released in 2019. The Severed Knot is the story of two people who have been ripped away from their homes in Scotland and Ireland and transported as bondservants thousands of miles away to Colonial Barbados.

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  1. Congratulations, Cryssa!

  2. Congratulations on such a fabulous review. My copy came in the post today. Thank you, Cryssa. I can't wait to read it!!


See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx