As a young girl, Jane Maxwell was in love with Thomas Fraser, and they go so far as to declare their engagement. But Thomas goes to war and is reported dead, to Jane’s dismay and her mother’s glee. In his absence, encouraged by family and friends, she marries Alexander, Duke of Gordon, and goes on to become a famous patroness of the arts and a political activist. Thomas, however, is not dead, and Jane spends her life torn between the man she has always loved and the man with whom she has a family.
This is quite an ambitious work of historical fiction. I so appreciated the depth and complexity of it and the historical picture that Ciji Ware creates here. Jane travels between England and Scotland and I really got a feel for both of them in the late eighteenth century. Jane herself is a powerful woman and I really liked her. For all that she had trouble choosing between men, she was a figure to be reckoned with in politics and consistently knew her own mind in many respects. The book is long, but I was sucked in after fifty pages and really enjoyed it. It has a nice sweeping, epic feel to it, like these characters are important and usually doing important things.
I similarly appreciated the author’s research. I liked knowing that she’d read Jane’s letters and tried to find the mysterious man that she references as her childhood love. She filled in the missing pieces, but it’s nice to know that the real life Jane struggled with the same issues that the fictional Jane did. I also appreciated the variety of historical characters that poke their heads into the story, like Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire and Robert Burns, the Scottish poet.
It’s not a perfect read, though. It is very bawdy; it seems like all the characters are featured in at least one sex scene with a variety of different people. Some of it furthers the plot, but a lot of it feels unnecessary, and leaves me wondering if this sort of explicit writing was in favor in historical fiction when the book was originally published. I was often frustrated with the misunderstandings that the characters had, but I could recognize where their difficulties came from even if I wanted Alex to open up and Jane to stop mooning constantly over Thomas.
In the end, I really enjoyed Island of the Swans. It has its faults, but there is a great story here with well-developed characters and dilemmas. I would definitely recommend it to other historical fiction lovers.
I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free from the publisher for review.