Review: Diver’s Daughter by Patrice Lawrence
‘You want me to go to an unknown place and seek out a guide to help me find hidden treasure? That’s not a plan. That’s a children’s tale.’
(From Diver’s Daughter by Patrice Lawrence. P35.)
When Eve falls into the River Thames, she is rescued by her mother, possibly one of the only people in Tudor London who is a strong swimmer. This catches the attention of one George Symons, who asks them to go to Southampton and find the diver who salvaged treasure from the Mary Rose. There is another shipwreck nearby, and it’s contents might lift Eve and her mother out of poverty.
The reception they get in Southampton is cruel and places them in a debt they can’t pay. Eve is desperately afraid of water, but she knows that treasure below the surface is the only chance she and her mother have of escaping terrible punishment and accusation.
Will Eve and her mother ever be free to live a secure life?
An extraordinary story which draws on the forgotten voices of the past. Patrice Lawrence’s tale started with the African divers who salvaged treasure from the Mary Rose (Henry VIII’s warship which sank in 1545). Set years after the event, Diver’s Daughter follows a child on a quest to find the surviving diver and improve her family circumstances.
Although slavery wasn’t legal in England at that point in history, and there were black people in British society, it was legal in other European countries and Englishmen could be involved if they operated from countries like where it was legal like Portugal. This meant that black people in England at the time, although protected by law, were not free from threat. Diver’s Daughter, set in Elizabethan London and Southampton, shows how this shadow overhang people’s lives.
Eve is a great protagonist. She has a strong voice and isn’t easily fooled by the people around her. She’ll also do anything to keep her mother afloat in a world which can be unbearably cruel.
The story doesn’t shy away from the less savoury parts of Tudor society – the tarred heads stuck on spikes and the women pinned to the pillory posts in the town centre. Threat of hunger and cold may look the same today as it did then, but the penalties for stealing food or failing to pay for shelter were higher. The darker parts of the narrative are balanced with friendship and determination and hope and a sense that Eve, whatever the odds, is a survivor.
A must for readers of historical fiction. I hope we’ll see more stories based on lesser-known characters from the past, and I would love to see some non-fiction on the same subject. Britain has been a diverse island for centuries and it is time our literature reflected it.
Thanks to Scholastic UK for my gifted copy of Diver’s Daughter. Opinions my own.