She had been a dignified wife, ever mindful of her husband's status, even if she could not respect the man. But when a letter arrives - on the day of the Earl's funeral - asking her to find a young American captured in British waters, she feels free to respond whatever her family's opinion.
Diana Stacpoole's quest takes her to Plymouth, where she meets Makepeace Hedley, a very different woman, who is trying to trace her young daughter - a passenger on one of the captured ships. All the two women have in common is their search and their growing outrage at the conditions in which the captured Americans are kept, deprived of rights given to other prisoners of war. Reluctantly the aloof Diana, with her belief in privilege and the respect due to the nobility, and the outspoken Makepeace, former innkeeper but now one of England's richest females with her passion for liberty for all, are forced into an alliance to find their missing persons and improve the men's conditions.
A remarkable friendship is born as they face social outrage, public scandal and even arrest, and become embroiled with French prisoners, American escapees and English smugglers. Helping others to liberty leads them to splendid liberty for themselves.
Taking Liberties is an unusual novel and a delight to read. It may have a historical setting, but the contemporary echoes are vivid and clear. Diana Norman has written as excellent successor to A Catch of Consequence.
Having read A Catch of Consequence a while ago, I was pleased to get to this book, which picks up the story of Makepeace Burke several years after the ending of the first book.
When Makepeace's young daughter is on a ship that is captured during hostilities between the Britain and the fledgling colonies of America, Makepeace rushes to Plymouth. On arriving there she finds that one of her close circle of friends has been captured and put into jail, when being put into jail often means a death sentence because of the horrific conditions.
Diana has also made her way to Plymouth to try to release a young man from the same prison as a favour to a friend from her youth. When she sees the conditions, Diana is immediately moved to try to do something for the prisoners, a cause that is both unpopular in the corridors of power and with her family.
With Diana and Makepeace working together, what hope is there that the authorities won't eventually capitulate. Well, it's not as simple as that sounds. Whilst having some of the settings within the dingy and dangerous prisons, other parts of the novel are set in a tiny fishing village where they supplement their income with a little smuggling. Along the way we meet dashing French smugglers, evil Revenue men trying to stop the smuggling trade and the gritty and realistic characters that make up the village life. In some ways, Makepeace comes full circle in this book. The only thing that I would have liked to see in relation to Makepeace was more of Andra. He was stuck in France for most of this book, and she was portrayed as not being quite as confident without his love and him to back her up at times. Their relationship has definitely bloomed from business partners to love to life partners during these two books, and was lovely to read.
As the links between these two worlds are established and bought closer together, the end result for some of the characters may well be freedom, not only for prisoners, but also from memories and marriage and yet for others there may be even less freedom than they currently have.
I really did enjoy this book. Diana Norman write complex and yet simple stories with good characters, out of the ordinary settings and view points and has the ability to move me both to tears and laughter. My thanks again to Jayne from Dear Author for bringing this author to my attention. You can read her thoughts on this book by clicking on the link. I am off to nag my library to hurray up and buy the third book in this series, The Sparks Fly Upwards.