Tuesday, June 16, 2020

#BookReview: Shame the Devil by Donna Scott

Historical Fiction

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England, 1643. The Civil War has created a great divide between those who support King Charles and those who would rather see his head on the block. Young Scot Colin Blackburne finds himself caught in the middle when he witnesses Parliamentarians murder his mother because of his father’s allegiance to the king. As further punishment, the family is sent to Yorkshire as indentured servants.

Mistreated by his master and tormented by a Parliamentarian soldier, Colin vows to take up arms for the king and seek vengeance against the men who killed his mother. The only bright spot in his life is his unexpected, and forbidden, friendship with his master’s daughter, Emma Hardcastle.

With her father constantly away on campaign and her mother plagued by madness, Emma is drawn to Colin and his brother, Roddy. She introduces them to her troubled neighbor Alston Egerton, who has a clandestine relationship with Stephen Kitts, the soldier out for Colin’s blood.

As they all become entangled in a twisted web of love, jealousy, desire, and betrayal, the war rages on around them. Resentful at being forced into servitude and forbidden from being with the woman he loves, Colin puts his plan for vengeance into motion, though it will have disastrous consequences for all of them.

Secrets are revealed and relationships are torn apart. With the country teetering on the brink of ruin, Emma fights to survive, Alston is forced to confront his demons, and Colin must decide whether his burning desire to fight for justice is worth sacrificing a future with the woman he loves.

I owe my discovery of Donna Scott’s Shame the Devil to its cover designer. Historical Editorial featured the title in one of its social media announcements, and I was immediately sucked in by the imagery. It had been a minute since I had read a novel set in the Stuart period, and the prospect of returning to the era tickled my imagination.

In looking at my library, I would have no trouble shelving Shame the Devil alongside Stella Riley’s A Splendid Defiance. I think Scott’s handling of the politics lighter than Riley’s, but consider her gentle manipulation of the material appealing and easy to follow, even for those unfamiliar with the details of the English Civil War. I came to the novel expecting the conflict to play a more significant role in the story than it does, but once I adjusted my mindset, I grew to appreciate how Scott used the history to frame the dramatic events of her story.

Shame the Devil has a large cast, and I am not above admitting I liked some more than others. I enjoyed Colin, Roddy, and Emma well-enough, but I was genuinely attached to Alston. He’s got a bit of a Sydney Carton thing going on, but I was captivated by his arc and thought his story the most dynamically compelling. Stephen, repugnant though he is, also deserves a shout out as a fabulously layered antagonist. 

The latter chapters of the novel were a little too drawn out for my tastes, but I enjoyed the time I spent with this piece overall and look forward to reading the author’s next release.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Kindle Unlimited
Read: June 9, 2020

#AuthorInterview: Historical Fiction Interview with Donna Scott, author of Shame the Devil

Historical Fiction

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Welcome to Historical Fiction Reader, Donna. It is a pleasure to have you with us. To start things off, please tell us about SHAME THE DEVIL.
Thank you so much for having me! It’s truly a pleasure to answer these questions. First and foremost, Shame the Devil is a story about love. Love for family, romantic love, love between friends, and love for king and country. And, as in real life, that love isn’t always requited, honorable, or without sacrifice. Although the story takes place during the English Civil War, the themes of love and revenge are timeless.

At the risk of sounding impertinent, where did you find this story? Did it strike like lightening out nowhere, or was it an idea that grew in your imagination over time?
It definitely didn’t strike like lightning! I knew I wanted to write about an uncommon time period. I chose the mid-17th century because I personally wanted to learn more about the era, and also because it wasn’t a saturated time period in the historical fiction market. The English Civil War and, more specifically, the Battle of Dunbar had plenty of built-in religious and political conflict. In order to amp it up, I knew I had to have a Scottish hero (servant) and an English heroine (noble) to not only address the Scottish Covenanters v the English New Model Army issue, but create a Romeo and Juliet type of forbidden love between them. The story evolved as I wrote. If a story can be explained using the alphabet, I knew, for example, letter points A, B, D, H, M, T, and Z. The rest filled itself in as the story progressed.

What historical resources did you turn to while researching SHAME THE DEVIL? Which would you recommend to readers who want to learn more about the English Civil War?
I like to do research while I’m traveling, and since I’ve had opportunities to visit the UK on several occasions over the years, I picked up bits and pieces from museums, experts, libraries, and original documents along the way. For anyone who wants a taste of the English Civil War, I would suggest reading anything about Oliver Cromwell and King Charles I. The Devil’s Whore (a British film) does a good job with the scenery, costumes, and sentiment of the time.

Without giving too much away, what can you tell us about Emma, Colin, Roddy, and Alston?  
Colin is forced to try to make sense of the death of his mother and can’t seem to shake the need for vengeance on her behalf. Although Emma’s mother is alive and living at the estate, she suffers from madness and therefore leaves Emma motherless, in a sense, too. Roddy probably adapts the best to his new situation as an indentured servant being only seven when he arrives at Appleton Hall, but he feels the pain of the losses that occur throughout the story. And then there’s Alston. Alston suffers silently about who he is and who he wishes he was.  He is bound by his fears, his loyalty to his father and his religion, and the time in which he lives. All of the characters are tortured in one way or another, but I think Alston suffers the most—at least internally.  

I did not admire Stephen, but I loved how complex he is. Was he a challenging character to write? 
Glad you don’t admire Stephen! Strangely enough, any villain I write is always the easiest character for me. Those chapters seem to flow freely when I put my fingers to the keyboard.  Hmmm.  Not sure what that says about me as a person. 😀

Do you have a favorite scene in SHAME THE DEVIL?
I do, but in order not to ruin anything for the reader, I’ll be vague.  It’s a pivotal moment in the story when Emma and Alston have a conversation as they’re standing by the paddock fence about ¾ of the way through the novel. 

Authors are often forced to sacrifice portions of a story when polishing their work for publication. Is there a character, scene, or concept you would have liked to have spent more time on in SHAME THE DEVIL?
Yes. My former agent had me remove a lot of war history, specific scenes that I thought took a look into the question “who are the good guys?” but served only as additional detail that wasn’t truly necessary.  At least according to her. 😀

As an author, who influences you and your writing? 
There are so many talented writers out there.  My top historical fiction authors are Ken Follett, Michelle Moran, Diana Gabaldon, Noah Gordon, Jennifer Donnelly, Amor Towles, Philippa Gregory, and about twenty others.  

If you could pick a fantasy cast – anyone at all, living or dead, at any point in their careers- to play your characters in a big-screen adaptation of SHAME THE DEVIL, who would you cast?
This is a tough question. I honestly think I’d like them to be played by actors we’ve never heard of, people who haven’t been in dozens of other roles already.  PS—I don’t think you could squeeze this book into a movie.  It would have to be a series.  Dreaming over here. 😀

What do you hope readers take from their experience of SHAME THE DEVIL?
I believe most people read historical fiction not simply to be entertained, but to learn a little something too.  At least that’s what I enjoy about reading it. So if Shame the Devil takes them to another place and time where they can live and feel alongside the characters, while learning a bit about the mid-17th century and the religious and political controversy embedded in the push and pull of the Parliamentarians and Royalists, then I have succeeded as an author.  

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to answer these wonderful questions.