1660. King Charles II has returned from exile, but memories of the English Civil War still rankle. There are old scores to settle, and religious differences threaten to overturn a fragile peace. When Alice Ibbetson discovers a rare orchid, the Lady's Slipper, growing in a wood belonging to Richard Wheeler, she is captivated by its beauty though Wheeler, a Quaker, is determined to keep the flower where God intended it to grow. Knowing that the orchid is the last of its kind, she steals the flower, little dreaming that her seemingly simple act will set off a chain of events that will lead to murder and exile, and change her life forever…
About the Author
DEBORAH SWIFT, a set and costume designer for the BBC, lives in Windermere, England. The Lady's Slipper, shortlisted for The Impress Novelists Prize in 2007, was inspired by her own discovery of the rare orchid during a summer walk.
Read an Excerpt
Alice tiptoed into the hallway. Perhaps it was a blessing she was still in mourning, for there would be less risk of being seen. Wheeler would be watching out, and his eyes were sharp as pikes–he would spot any movement, any slight shift in the features of the landscape.
She reached up to the peg for her black bonnet and put it on, pulling the lace veiling down so it hid her face. Regretfully, she looked down at her narrow feet, shod now in pale yellow sateen. This was her favourite pair of shoes, in a style considered far too fancy these days. They were one of the few pretty things she had saved from the fire and she was loath to get them wet and muddy. But her leather bootees made too much noise; even on tiptoe the irons would clang against the flagstones in the hall. These shoes were silent, and outside would leave hardly a trace if she was careful to tread where it was dry. There must be no mishaps. This was the only night with no moon, and the orchid would fade fast, so it had to be tonight.
The basket stood ready by the back door. She had prepared it earlier with a lining of soaked green moss and dampened sackcloth. A bunch of fresh herbs was waiting in the pantry for her return: parsley, salvia, rosemary; they would be her excuse if Thomas were to wake and ask her where she had been. She glanced over towards the fireplace where he snored lightly, his mouth drooping open and his arm dangling over the edge of the chair. As usual, his boots were almost in the embers.
At the door she leaned her shoulder against the jamb, to ease the latch out of its socket; the door swung open silently and she stepped out into the night air. She heard the latch clack gently into place behind her.
The night was a soot-black tunnel. She listened, senses quivering. Her heart beat loudly as if caught in her throat; her breath came in sharp little puffs. She gathered herself. Soon she would have it, and though Wheeler might suspect her, he would never be able to prove it.
She felt her way down the path with an outstretched hand on the fence, for Wheeler must not see any glimmer of her presence, and a lantern would surely draw his eye like bait to a fish. Her foot stubbed against a wooden milk churn and she momentarily lost her balance. She lurched for the gate with her hand and shuddered as she felt the wet body of a slug on its night-time foray for food.
Her eyes strained to accustom themselves to this new, lightless world. Thank the Lord she had rehearsed the route. In the daylight she had practised with eyes closed, opening them again as she passed close to Wheeler’s house, for in the dark of the moon she knew it would be hard to find her way. Becoming more sure-footed, she followed the smell of wood-smoke from the village chimneys until she saw the lights of Wheeler’s house and the barely perceptible outline of the kissing-gate to Helk’s Wood.
The house lay directly next to the gate, with a window that over-looked the path. From here Wheeler could keep watch on anyone coming or going. Lights flickered in the downstairs room. She stopped short.
He was awake–and probably at his vantage point at the window.
A lozenge of yellow light slanted across her path. She reconsidered her route; she dare not risk passing the window. Instead, she felt along the hedge for a gap.
A bramble wound its thorny teeth round her ankle and she winced as she tore free. She stumbled forward and found herself in a cut cornfield. She walked faster, despite the scratchy stubble, which snagged on the silk of her shoes and caught at her under-skirt. The dew was already heavy, her dress damp–the sodden hem swung over her ankles.
Above her the stars were fixed points of light, too faint to reach the shadows under the stooks, too faint to touch the flurry of a hare as it leapt into the hedge’s black underbelly. She felt for the wall to the wood. Here, she could hide and keep away from Wheeler’s gimlet eyes. The wall had substance, solidity–so she kept her hand there. As she listened, the ancient presence of the woodland loomed beyond; the trees were watching, and the grasses, even the stones in the wall. They were conversing with each other in an unknown silent language. She shivered and withdrew her hand.
Beyond the wall the trees were shapes distorted by the dark. Each one grew into the next; one dim shape concealing another, brooding. A crawling sensation curled at the top of her spine. From nowhere a chill breeze swept through the branches making the mounds of creamy meadowsweet float like ghostly clouds against the hedge. In the night air their smell was sickly and cloying.
But there was another smell, fainter, more familiar. Alice sucked in her breath. It was a smell she knew, something sweet and musty, like peat. Instantly she dropped down behind the wall. Tobacco. There was someone smoking close by.
Her back pressed against the stones, she pulled the veil of the bonnet down over her face and undid the ribbons, straining her ears for the least sound. A cough, and then the sound of boots approaching. She heard the ring of them on the stones, and the slight squelch as they landed in the muddy wheel tracks. With consternation Alice saw a light getting closer. From her hiding place she saw the leaves of the trees in the canopy flare into colour and then disappear into the dark. She shrank further into the shadow of the wall. She knew only one man who smoked that tobacco. Wheeler.
He must be guarding the wood.
The footsteps got nearer, until she heard what must be the buttons of his long coat scratching against his boots.
She put a hand over her nose lest the steam of her breath should betray her. She heard a dull hiss as a taper caught light. The corn near her feet was illuminated as he drew on his pipe. She crouched low, head bent forward, hands now clutching the fabric of her gown about her. The smoke drifted over the wall and fogged above her head, like the creeping mist near the river.
What would he think if he knew she was only inches away, spying on him from behind the wall? The situation struck her suddenly as absurd. She suppressed an unaccountable urge to laugh. Mirth began to bubble up inside and she had to quash it by stuffing her sleeve over her mouth and nose.
Wheeler must not see her here. He was such a serious man–so serious he made her feel like a fool. If she were to give herself away, he would know straightway what she was about, and would have none of it. He would be incredulous to think she could consider doing such a thing.
Presently the footsteps moved away up the path. She listened to them fade away and let out a long exhalation. All desire to laugh had disappeared. When she was certain he had gone, she stood up stiffly, aware that the hour was passing and she must hurry if she were not to make trouble at home. Finding a place where the wall had tumbled down, she hitched up her skirts and climbed over, landing softly on the path below. She walked until she felt the ground become springy under her feet–a mossy clearing.
A breeze blew up again, a soft muttering of leaves, a swing of shadows, the branches moving silver-limbed against the sky. Her eyes had opened out to the dark. She stopped a few feet away and looked.
The pale globe of the flower shone out like Venus in the night sky. She tiptoed closer. Indeed, silence came easily. It was a natural response to something so exquisite.
She knelt down in front of the plant so she could look inside the fragile petal bowl and see the tiny stigmata of maroon and pink, appearing blue-black in the darkness. Reaching out a finger, she caressed the edge of a fleshy leaf.
‘Cypripedium.’ She whispered the Latin name softly, caressingly, as if calling for it to come home, feeling the taste of the words on her tongue.
Squatting down she started to dig around it, her movements precise and delicate, careful not to disturb the roots. She worked quickly with the trowel to prise away the heavy soil, not noticing that the dirt was forced up into her fingernails. In one deft movement she plucked the whole plant and lowered it gently into the basket of damp moss.
A movement made her startle. An owl flew overhead, pale faced, wings beating quiet as breathing. Again she shivered and looked over her shoulder. There was nobody there, yet she could not shake off the feeling that someone was watching, unseen in the cold shadows.
She stood up and regarded the empty hole, wondering whether to fill it in or disguise it in some way. But then she had an idea. She reached into her handkerchief pouch and pulled out a few coins. She tossed them into the hole, hearing them chink at the bottom. There, she thought, I have paid you for it. She repressed a small chuckle as she imagined Wheeler’s face when he returned in the morning. He was always so keen on the idea of everything having its price.
She picked up the basket and, confident now, followed the same route she had come. She turned to look back. Behind her, another dark human figure melted into the shadow of the undergrowth.
When she passed Wheeler’s house she trod softly, for although his lights were still lit, it was even more vital to be invisible now. But the only sound was the chek, chek of the corncrakes in the meadow and the distant lowing of a cow.
She went straight to the summerhouse and gently took out the orchid to stand it upright in a small pot of earth. It looked small and insignificant, almost insipid, next to the pink curling papers of the flowering geraniums. She felt a pang of remorse. The orchid looked somehow less, out of its woodland setting.
It was for the best, she convinced herself. She knew she had the skills to divide it, whatever Wheeler might think; soon there would be lady’s slippers growing in abundance. She watered it, just a few drops. Not because it was dry, but because she wanted to tend it–to make amends for uprooting it and bringing it to a strange place. After hiding it out of sight under the table, she locked the door with the little bronze key and crept into the house.
She need not have worried. The fire was barely aglow, and Thomas’s wheezing snores told her he was still sleeping. Only now did she allow herself a sigh of relief. She thought of her dear sister, Flora, and her delight if she could have seen it. She could not wait to tell Geoffrey, and looked forward to his expression when he saw it for the first time. He would understand her excitement, and she knew she could trust him to keep her secret.
Her cuffs were brackish-brown and there was a quantity of dirt under her nails, so she washed in the scullery, out of Thomas’s earshot, by the light of a lantern. She soaped and drubbed the cuffs until the water ran clean; they would dry overnight. Looking down at her shoes she could see they were ruined–the fabric soaked through and scuffed with mud, but worse, the deep scratch on her ankle had bled and dribbled over the embroidery in a dark red stain.
She carried the shoes to the kitchen and wrapped them in brown paper. It would be difficult to explain their condition to Thomas so they would need to be disposed of. She dare not pass him, in case he should wake. For the moment she pushed the shoes right to the bottom of the turnip sack. Her bare feet padded softly on the stairs as she made her way to bed. Thomas slept on–his snores loud above the ticking clock, while the embers grew cold.
THE LADY’S SLIPPER Copyright © 2010 by Deborah Swift.
Reading Group Guide
"My First Slipper": An Original Essay by the Author
One Sunday I was out for a walk with a friend in the countryside, and strolling down a leafy unmade track, we came across a white tent right in the middle of the path. It was blocking our way, so we peered inside. An official-looking man was sitting there; he told us he was from an organization called English Nature. His task was to guard the rare lady's slipper orchid that was in flower a few yards farther on. Apparently, orchid enthusiasts were so desperate to get hold of the plant that in 2003 half of it had been dug up by a greedy collector, and since then it has been guarded whilst it is in flower.
A bit taken aback that a guard should be patrolling such a quiet country footpath, and full of curiosity, we followed him to view this rare orchid. Nestling against the green of the hedgerow, it was strikingly different from most other English flowers. I don't know what I was expecting, but the sight of it took my breath away. I had never seen anything so exotic-looking growing wild beforethe creamy yellow "slipper," surrounded by the twisted blood-colored ribbons. It struck me at that moment that every time anyone saw this, generation after generation, they must have experienced the same awe. The thought that it could be lost to future generations was sobering.
We stood and stared as our guide described a little of its history. The species was on the brink of extinction in Britain, but when a single plant was rediscovered, the Cypripedium Committee was formeda sort of plant mafiadesigned to protect the lady's slipper orchid and develop a conservation strategy involving propagating or cloning the species.
The Committee is obsessively protective of the plant. Once, on television, a member tried to explain its much-publicized and expensive conservation program. The interviewer asked, "Will people be allowed to see it?"
"No," the Committee member said. "And if I have my way it will live the rest of its days unseen and die in isolation."
This seemed an interesting paradox and whetted my imagination. It was strange that the Committee was able to effectively "own" the plant in its attempts to preserve it. Eventually this became one theme I wanted to explore in the novel. But I am jumping ahead.
So I did more research. I trawled Internet sites and orchid books and read scientific articles on plant cloning. This is the sort of thing I used to do when writing a poemlook for snippets of language, unusual words, or fragments that I might craft into poetry. After a few attempts at beginning a poem, I realized it just wasn't working. It seemed a bigger, more wordy idea than there was room for in a poem, more of a narrative. The plant on its own was nothing without characters to see it, so I drafted chapter one of what was to become The Lady's Slipper.
At the same time I went to a philosophy workshop in an old Quaker meetinghouse at Yealand, a short drive from my home. The old meetinghouse, built in 1692, is full of atmosphere, the silence of the meetings over so many hundreds of years seemingly concentrated into its very walls. What moved me most on that particular day was the graveyard. It is a typical Quaker burial ground where all the headstones are exactly the sameplain granite, thumbnail-shaped stones with a simple name and date inscription. It is the ultimate expression of death as a leveling process: whoever you were, however rich or poor, you shall have the same memorial and be returned to the land. This idea of equality is not so startling today, but how would it have been viewed in the class-ridden system of seventeenth-century England when the movement began?
I started to investigate Quaker history. I was fascinated by the Quakers' strict code of morality and the strength of their convictions for peace in those early times, particularly as the movement began when England was still recovering from the bloodshed of its Civil War and the subsequent Puritan repression. I began to visualize the character of Richard Wheeler as a Quaker.
Fortunately, I live near the birthplace of the Quaker movement, so visits to their first meeting grounds and houses, such as Swarthmoor Hall, where George Fox himself actually stood, played a large part in the background of the book. There is nothing like inhaling the smell of seventeenth-century paneling, or looking at a view of a garden from inside mullioned glass. George Fox kept a diary that provided me with not only a time frame but also a flavor of the particular language of the period.
As I was researching I found I was haunted by "what if" questions such as: What would happen if a Quaker had pledged not to take up arms but then was put in a position where he must defend the person he loves? I was interested also to explore the whole question of territory, and what it is that makes people defend their territory (Thomas's indignation when Ella encroaches on Alice's territory, for example).
For me, the lady's slipper represents the land. It rouses a patriotism in me, something that has become a somewhat unpopular idea. And I think many people are asking questions about soldiering, and the paradox of using conflict to bring about peace. So the character of Richard Wheeler enabled me to explore these questions without implying the answers.
The Lady's Slipper grew in an organic sort of way. Although I was aware of the crafting process as it went on, in some respects I feel the story was already "out there," and I am just the person who happened to pen it down. So I feel immensely grateful to the characters for letting me tell their story.
BEHIND THE NOVEL - A Historical Perspective
King Charles I was executed for treason against his own country in 1649. This is probably the single most extraordinary event in English history. A king is a symbol as well as a person, and this meant that the country had literally lost its head. The stability of England was undermined with one stroke of the executioner's axe. If the King could be decapitated by his own people, anything was possible.
The country was then ruled as a Commonwealth by a Parliament, presided over by the religious zealot Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell believed that government should be "for the people's good, not what pleases them," and thus he set in place a Puritan regime in which pleasures were curtailedno maypole dancing, no merry-making, and for the first time in English history, adultery became punishable by death. Spies for Cromwell were commonplace, there was a feeling that you were being watched, and betrayals and punishments were frequent. When Cromwell eventually died in 1658, there was dancing in the streets. John Evelyn, the diarist, wrote that it was "the joyfullest funeral that I ever saw, for there was none that cried but dogs." Parliament endured a short while, but it was with scarcely disguised relief that the country welcomed back the exiled royal son, Charles II.
As The Lady's Slipper begins, the new monarch has just been returned to the throne. So when Lady Emilia plans a lavish dinner and theatrical entertainment, it is probably the first time such an event would have happened in many years. But although there is a return to the old order on the surface, I can't help feeling that there must still have been undercurrents of residual unease. The culture of fearin which children could be whipped for swearing and women cast into prison for dancing on a Sundaywas slow to dissipate, and it is obvious that this England must have been a place of many hidden tensions. I could also imagine that a certain pocket of the population might actually miss the drama of those times and wish to recreate it, hence the village's ready support of Ella's accusations. Added to this was the fact that people could still remember the bloodshed and brutality of the Civil War that had led to King Charles's execution, and old hurts from those days may perhaps have festered in people's minds.
It is estimated that in the English Civil War, fifty-five thousand people were made homeless and four percent of the population died, a higher proportion than in World War I. One in every five adult males was actively caught up in the fighting, and eleven thousand houses were burned down. The clash between King Charles and his followers and Parliament and its adherents tore families apart and divided long-standing friends. From this it was easy to imagine a world where childhood friends Geoffrey Fisk and Richard Wheeler found themselves on opposing sides in the war, and that Alice Ibbetson's Royalist family might have had to flee when their house burned to the ground.
In such a world of uncertainty, religious faith provided security and a backbone to life. During the seventeenth-century, unorthodox religions began to flourish. The Quaker movement was founded by George Fox, the son of a weaver. There is no evidence to suggest that Fox was educated, but he nonetheless toured the towns and villages of Westmorland preaching his new ideas to whomever would listen. His idea was that God could speak to a person directly and inwardly without the need for the intercession of the clergy, as there is "that of God in every man." Predictably, his negative attitude toward regular church ministers and his speaking out against the customs of oaths, tithes, and military service led him and his followers into conflict with authority, particularly once Charles II returned.
In my book, the Quakers speak using the archaic "thee" and "thou." Quakers wanted to speak the truth even to the extent of refusing to use you (a plural form of address) to one person. Instead they used "thou" to address an individual. Initially, I thought writing this way would alienate the modern reader, but I found it helped to bring Richard Wheeler and his friends to life.
In many ways, the seventeenth century remains an unknown land. A writer has to tread a fine line when using period detail that might seem outlandish to today's reader. Ideas about health and healing at the time were very different from ours. Laudanum (opium) and mercury were the usual medicines employed by physicians, supplemented by bloodletting, a regime that surely killed as many as it cured! Rich people were particularly at risk from these treatments, as they could afford to pay for them. The poor relied on collecting herbal medicine, hence the over-collection of plants such as the lady's slipper. In the period in which the book is set there are few references to the lady's slipper, but most cite it as being "uncommon," and I was unable to ascertain just how rare it might have been in any particular year. But I hope you have been entertained by my idea of setting its modern day scarcity against the sweeping canvas of the seventeenth century, and will forgive any unwitting historical or botanical inaccuracies.
BEHIND THE NOVEL - Fun Facts
• The lady's slipper orchid is also known as American Valerian, Nerve Root, Camel's Foot, Steeple Cap, Noah's Ark, Two Lips, and Whippoorwill's Shoe.
• One of the most famous, endangered wildflowers in the United States is the pink lady's slipper, Cypripedium acaule. But it is officially endangered in only two states: Illinois and Tennessee. Georgia lists it as "unusual." New York lists it as "exploitably vulnerable." But in the other twelve states it is not listed at all! Even wild flowers like this one can be quite common in many places. The Endangered Species Act required that each state create its own list of plants (and animals) that need protection within its (state) borders. These lists are updated regularly. You can find out which plants are endangered in your state by visiting www.americanmeadows.com.
• One of the earliest books about North American plants is from Jacques Philippe Cornut's Canadensium Plantarum. Published in France in 1635, it features an illustration of a yellow lady slipper. Cornut himself never visited America, though he received imported New World seeds and plants for his botanical garden in Paris. See illustration below.
KEEP ON READING - Recommended Reading
I am a big fan of Tremain, and this is a masterful evocation of the periodnot just the peripheral details, but the insight she provides into the spirit of the age through the mind and voice of Robert Merivel. In many ways it is the novel I wish I had written!
Subtitled A Horticultural Tale of Love, Lust, and Lunacy, this is a hugely entertaining read. If you ever wondered whether a flower could really evoke such passion, here is the answer in this nonfiction collection of orchid-obsessives through the ages. Hilarious and fascinating in equal measure, it proves truth really can be as strange as fiction.
Year of Wonders
Set in Eyam in England during the plague of 1666, this novel explores how a small community might cope in the wake of tragedy, and how in such a confined society neighbors can be both your scourge and your salvation.
Daphne du Maurier
Although penned in 1941 and much less famous than Rebecca, this tale of a bored socialite from the Restoration court heading for wild love on the Cornish coast is rich with the atmosphere of the sea. Romantic and escapist, but not mawkish or sentimental, it examines a woman's role in seventeenth-century England with more subtlety than you would expect.
The Heretic's Daughter
I was riveted by this novel, which is based on a true family history. Shocking and haunting, stories such as this are a sobering example of what happens when mass hysteria takes over a community. Although there have been other examples of "witch hunt" plots, this was very finely drawn and all the more gripping because of its basis in reality.
As Meat Loves Salt
This book tells the reader about the English Civil War in close-up as we follow the brutal Jacob Cullen into battle, and later into the idealistic Diggers community. With the mud and gore of the battlefield, but also a love story between two unlikely men, this book defies conventions and easy description. Its presence gave me the confidence not to explain too closely the unpredictable and conflicted elements of Geoffrey's character.
A novel of seventeenth-century Amsterdam as seen through the eyes of Dutch artists, this was going to be a massively visual read, but I loved it not just because of the pictures, but because Deborah Moggach conveys the sensuality and allure of the tulip in such a tangible way, something I was aiming for in The Lady's Slipper.
C. J. Sansom
This was the first historical novel I had read by Sansom, but not the last. Although set in Tudor England, its style is something I wanted to emulate for The Lady's Slipper. The racing plots and larger-than-life characters in the Shardlake series give Dark Fire a sense of drama and momentum without departing too far from the constraints of history.
The first of two novels about the famous plant collector, John Tradescant, who leaves England because of the English Civil War and travels to Virginia, where he falls in love with a Powhatan woman. I admire all of Philippa Gregory's novels for their readability and research, and this makes a good companion volume to The Lady's Slipper as it shows one possible view of what Richard and Alice might confront as they set foot in the New World.
The Instance of the Fingerpost
A mystery which examines the nature of truth itself. Set in Oxford in 1663 at the height of the scientific resurgence of the Restoration, the novel uses several different points of view to illuminate an ideathat each person can only see the partial truth of a situation. I loved the idea of writing a multiple viewpoint novel, so that the reader is privy to the deceptions of the characters while they themselves are not.
1. In the novel, Richard says that it is not possible for him to pledge peace unless he were to live in a "golden age." What sort of a golden age do you think he is imagining? And do you live in one now?
2. What does the lady's slipper orchid represent to the various characters in the book? Why do you think that Alice's slipper is such a potent symbol for Ella?
3. One of the reasons that Alice takes the lady's slipper is because she wants to preserve it for future generations. Later she replaces it with an American orchid. In your view, was she preserving or violating the English countryside?
4. Both Richard and Hannah have a "religious experience" in the book. Which do you find the most convincing, and why? What makes an experience religious?
5. Stephen says of Ella Appleby: "She has given us lives we would never have anticipated." Discuss Ella's role and influence throughout the novel. To what extent do you think our lives are determined by the actions of other people?
6. Alice says that flowers have "a lost innocence, outside man-made time, the flower of a thousand years ago repeating itself over and over, reminding the world of nature's order." What do you think of this statement? How would you define "nature's order"?
7. Geoffrey is in some respects the villain of the book. To what extent are his character traits a product of his upbringing and station in life? Some views that were acceptable in 1660 would be totally unacceptable today. Is our morality changing with the times? Or do you think there are aspects of our morality that are fixed?
8. Discuss Stephen's use of disguise in the novel. What does he learn about his true nature by being someone else? Have you ever pretended to be something you are not for a particular purpose? How do you recognize the real you?
9. Richard Wheeler embarks on a journey from being a Quaker pacifist to becoming a soldier ready to defend his homeland. What is the meaning of "home" to Richard? What does it mean to youand would you be willing to defend it with your life?
10. Ella says that she was "beginning to believe she really had seen the body of an old woman in that ditch. After she had claimed to see it, six more of the villagers, including Audrey and Tom, had unaccountably confirmed that they too had seen the Mistress bending over the body." How does the "Rashomon effect," in which observers of one event are able to produce different but equally plausible accounts of it, play out both in the novel and in real life?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a wonderful story full of suspense and mystery to be solved and falling in love.
Very well written and interesting story. Moral. No foul language. No explicit sex scenes. I really enjoyed it.
Great characterization, concise overview of the Quaker religion and the war resulting from it, interesting 'mysteries' that were set forth to the reader but not apparent to all those living through them.
I absolutely loved this book and would recommend it to anyone. The writing style is so brilliant and every line unfolded in the most captivating way. I truly feel like I have been on a journey to the 16th century!
Fascinating characters, well paced plot, could not put down.
The Lady's Slipper by Deborah Swift Alice Ibbetson is still in deep mourning over the death of her little sister Flora and has grown moody, introverted and spends most of her time among her garden and flower paintings. When Richard Wheeler shows her the rare Lady’s Slipper orchid growing on his land, she feels she must save it and ensure its survival. Richard Wheeler, a former member of the Puritan army who has given up his money and possessions to become a Quaker and live more peacefully after the horrors of war believes the orchid should stay where God placed it and Sir Geoffrey Fisk, a nobleman, and landowner who has a painful skin condition wants the flower for medicinal purposes. Narrated from the third person point of view, the book is set in 1660 England -- Westmoreland -- just after Charles II's return and the end of the Puritan wars. This is a very long and boring novel. I couldn't identify with the characters and the plot was more tedious than entertaining. Not recommended!
Totally not what you would expect. This book was refreshing and a joy to read. After despising the Ella character dont if I want to read her story or not. I havent decided yet since I enjoyed this book so much. CB
This story is like a ride on a Rube Goldberg invention. I could not see a good turn for the story but then the author found it. YAHOO
***Graphic violence and sexual situations, also heavily religious*** Not a mystery. I have no idea why people characterize it as such. Graphic, depressing book. The characters, by and large, have no depth to them and are almost cartoonish. The book spans the adult life of the female protagonist, though it skips over many years to get to the prologue (where not everything is wrapped up). Additionally, the book is preachy. I realize that the author felt it was necessary to explain Quaker beliefs, as some of the characters were Quakers, but the plot could have easily not included that at all - it seems like an attempt to preach Christianity to the reader. Being a Quaker is not necessary to the plot. The descriptions are very good, I will say that. One can almost smell the characters, especially the ones in the gaol. But I think this is the only redeeming point in the book. The author clearly can write well, it's just that this doesn't seem the right genre for her.
If you enjoy botany, and historical fiction, this is a book for you.
Though it started slowly, I really enjoyed it.
The characters were so well described, as was everything in this story, you were able to visualize it all, in detail. It seemed really slow in The beginning but now that I finished it every thing written was vital to the story. You go through all the emotions with Alice's story. Not sure I even want to see what happens to Ella in the next book.
This was a very interesting book
Well written. Enjoyed on many levels.
I could not put this book down. I have already ordered The Guilded Lily and hope Miss Swift's new novel, A Divided Inheritance, will be available in the US soon!
The Lady's Slipper is a gripping read about 17th century England during the reign (post-exile) of Charles II. This time period is interesting on its own, and Swift makes use of the post-war situation beautifully. All of her main characters have been profoundly impacted by Cromwell's England and are either trying to recover from (financially and/or emotionally) or repent for it when they are faced with the rare orchid. I loved the way that Swift managed to keep the story somewhat focused on the Lady's Slipper and those around it, but still looked at the aftermath of the return of Charles II, the beginning of the Quaker movement in England, and life at differing socio-economic strata of society. I was completely sucked into their world and was unaware until I looked back after I finished reading how much research must have gone into the writing of this book. Book source: ARC provided by the publisher through Goodreads First Reads program.
Author Deborah Swift took a summer walk near her home in the woods of the mountain district in England. She discovered Britain's rarest wildflower, the elegant lady's slipper, and wrote a poem about it. Feeling the poem paid insufficient homage to the rare orchid, she fashioned a chapter where it could be admired by characters. Chapters blossomed into a book, The Lady's Slipper, featuring main character, Alice Ibbetson, a botanist and artist. After years in theater as a costume designer, author Deborah Swift has an uncanny ability to set a scene so the reader feels a curtain has just been opened on a new act of a play. She has a knack for attaching an attitude to a description. Water is "as soft as a horse's muzzle." A stew is "grayish meat and kale swimming in a greasy liquid that should have been gravy." Weary of reviews where the plot line is endlessly copied from other sources, this reviewer prefers to whet your appetite for some characters you will meet in the pages of this engrossing book. Herbalist, spy, skank maid, traitor, botanist, artist, soldier turned peacemaker, prisoner, perjurer , flibbertigibbet , murderer, cook, thief, arsonist and accused witch all join hands to populate this romantic historical fiction novel. Early 17th century England is reeling after its Civil War and struggling to return to a sense of normalcy with its new regent, Charles II. The Lady's Slipper takes a magnifying glass to the era's societal and religious changes. Its characters wear the turbulence of the times on their sleeves as their personal lives dip in and swirl, intermingling with unexpected turns in the plot. The novel's concept is unique. An orchid that bloomed for thousands of years is stolen, disturbing the natural order of things. Characters surprise us. Plot twists are accomplished in a sentence or two. The reading is challenging, but rewarding. Concentration is required to keep track of myriad plot lines and new characters, but The Lady's Slipper is worth your time and attention. The most touching scenes are those in the cell shared by Alice and Hannah. Alice's character growth is noteworthy. The writing is impressive and believable until a peculiarity in the plot toward the end disturbed the narrative's rhythm. The Lady's Slipper is published in a "Reading Group Gold" edition which enhanced my enjoyment of the book. Sneak an early peek at these end materials which include an author interview, historical background, recommended partner reading and readers guide. This extraordinary novel that would have earned five stars on my bookshelf had the ending not been so abrupt.
After his father's execution and a decade plus in exile, by 1660 King Charles II has regained the throne after being forced into exile. However, there remains religious divisiveness and ire from those who lost power with the restoration. In that environs Alice Ibbetson finds the rare Lady's Slipper orchid in a nearby woods owned by her neighbor Quaker Richard Wheeler. She steals the beauty with the intent of growing it elsewhere to preserve this impressive plant that she believes is near extinction. Wheeler wants to prevent what he believes is an abomination of God as the flower should only grow where the Lord placed it. Alice runs into other problems with a maid who tries to extort money from her and her business partner nasty Geoffrey Fisk who threatens murder if crossed. The Lady's Slipper is an entertaining seventeenth century historical thriller that uses chaos theory as a simple act leads to repercussions for several people including some several degrees of separation from the catalyst theft. The story line is at its best when it focuses on the theft and aftermath; when the key cast members ponderously ponder over the Civil War, Cromwell and Charles I and II, it slows down the pacing and diverts readers from the prime theme. Still fans of historical thrillers will enjoy Alice's adventures in wonderland. Harriet Klausner