I picked up The Noble Fugitive, by T. Davis and Isabella Dunn, largely because of the setting. The word Venice is a siren call to me, and one day I will have the wherewithal to visit it—hopefully before it sinks into the sea. I wasn’t disappointed with my choice.
The Noble Fugitive chronicles the lives of Serafina Gavi and John Falconer. She is the spoiled daughter of a Venetian doge, intent on running away with her art instructor, a young man named Luca. Even after she is caught and falls ill, she can think of nothing else. Her father is sent on a secret mission to America, and he takes his wife and daughter with him. Though she loves her parents, she again runs away when the ship docks in Portsmouth. Her plan is to find her aunt, Agatha Donatella, and enlist her aid in returning to Venice.
Luckily for young Serafina, Agatha is having none of it. She is dying, but she shares with Serafina, the truth about her lover. In possession of a broken heart, but no money and no other options, Serafina is forced to enter service as a scullery maid at the great house of Harrow Hall.
John Falconer is a man with a past that hangs over him like a cloud. Once a slaver, he has since given his life to Christ. Although he knows God has forgiven him, he cannot forgive himself for the reprehensible things he has done. He, and a couple of other men on the island of Trinidad, are determined to prove to Parliament that although trafficking in slaves has been outlawed for years, it is still going on. The stakes are magnified many times when they discover that the governor of Trinidad has been bribed into renewing the license for at least one such market. The conspiracy leads as high as the court, if not the crown.
When one of Falconer’s cohorts is murdered, he must begin a perilous journey to take the proofs they have gathered to England, so that the matter can be put before Parliament. His progress is complicated when he is accused of his friends murder and becomes an outlaw. He frog-leaps his way across the Caribbean and up the American coast until he reaches Georgetown. Here he throws his lot in with an invalid, Gareth Powers, and his young daughter, Hannah. Gareth is a pamphleteer devoted to ending slavery. Danger stalks their progress as they cross the Atlantic together.
Serafina and Falconer meet at Harrow Hall, when Gareth seeks refuge there from his enemies. After Falconer rescues her from an attack by the Duke’s son, she leaves her employment there, to act as a caretaker for little Hannah Powers. Falconer quickly falls in love with the beautiful, young Venetian, but he knows nothing can ever come of it.
Truly repentant for her foolish willfulness, Serafina has been humbled. She recognizes the rightness of the fight against slavery, and with the prompting of the Powers family she agrees to use her artistic abilities in their last salvo. The question of slavery, and whether it should be abolished entirely, is about to be put up in Parliament. In the end, Serafina and Falconer must step beyond what they believe themselves capable of, to fight for a greater cause.
My one small criticism is that the prologue would have been more effective as a chapter in the middle of the book. Written from Serafina’s point of view, it doesn’t add any information that couldn’t have waited until later to be introduced.
I had difficulty getting past Serafina’s selfish stupidity in the early chapters. Nobody stone me, but she reminded me of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, another character I didn’t really like. But that was the point. In essence, The Noble Fugitive is about redemption. I liked John Falconer immensely, but that was because I met him after he met the Lord. Had I met him as a murdering, thieving, slave ship skipper, I wouldn’t have been so impressed. By the end of the novel I was rooting for them both.