Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Island of the Swans by Ciji Ware

Best friends in childhood, Jane Maxwell and Thomas Fraser wreaked havoc on the cobbled streets of Edinburgh with their juvenile pranks. But years later, when Jane blossoms into a beautiful woman, her feelings for Thomas push beyond the borders of friendship, and he becomes the only man she wants. When Thomas is reportedly killed in the American colonies, the handsome, charismatic Alexander, Duke of Gordon, appeals to a devastated Jane. Believing Thomas is gone forever, Jane hesitantly responds to the Duke, whose passion ignites her blood, even as she rebels at his fierce desire to claim her.

But Thomas Fraser is not dead, and when he returns to find his beloved Jane betrothed to another, he refuses to accept the heartbreaking turn of events. Soon Jane's marriage is swept into a turbulent dance of tender wooing and clashing wills--as Alex seeks truly to make her his, and his alone. . . .
When I discovered this book was being republished, last year, and was marketed as historical fiction I was very glad that I had an earlier copy on my shelves. So last week I was in the mood for some HF and decided to pick it up.

Based on the life of Lady Jane Maxwell, the Duchess of Gordon, who was a leading society lady in her time and a rival of the Duchess of Devonshire, this sounded like an interesting read. It starts with Jane as a child and her friendship with her neighbour Thomas Fraser and it follows her through her adult years when she truly becomes a woman to be reckoned with and a society matchmaker who married all her children well.

It covers a vast period of time and so a lot of events. There are reflections on Scotland of the Bonnie Prince Charlie defeat, the American war, the reign of King George III and the political protagonists of the period. I found all those mentions very interesting although at some points it seemed a bit too much. Too many things going on at the same time that made me pause and reread or check dates to see if I was following everything.

But the main thing in the story is not this rich background of events and characters of history. The main thing is the love triangle between Jane, her husband Alexander and her childhood sweetheart Thomas. And because of it I think this is much more an historical romance novel than an historical fiction novel.

Having said that, I have to mention that I did not particularly like Jane. She is a selfish brat at first, although I think that's because this was written in 1989 and feisty young heroines were the norm then. And Thomas is a hothead. I couldn't help but sympathise with Alex at first -  if only Thomas hadn't come back from the dead I'm sure he and Jane would have dealt well together. As it is, we have a life time of drama and heartbreak and I couldn't understand how they didn't seem to be able to move on from their misery once they decided not to be together.

Ware is very good at creating heart wrenching scenes, full of agony and heartbreak and during those parts I was glued to the story. However I have my doubts that so much drama, while creating an interesting, albeit a bit over the top romance, is a realistic representation of the lives of the people involved.

Grade: 3.5/5


  1. What's interesting is that when the new edition came into the library, despite its being marketed as HF it was tagged by the library as ROM for romance. I liked it a lot, but it did have its flaws. Some of those old 80's novels could use a bit of pruning.

  2. I read this book back in the 80's when it first came out and loved it. I've always wondered why no one has ever written a historical biography about Jane the way they have about Georgiana. Jane was known for her matchmaking because 3 of her daughters married Dukes.

  3. Misfit,
    a big bit of pruning in some cases...