“Lucia St. Clair Robson has an extraordinary ability to hear the particular human music that runs deep in history.”
Anne River Siddons
“If the publishing industry gave an award for historical novels, Mary’s Land would win the Best of the Best. Outstanding!”
“In 1638, Margaret Brent, an upper-class Catholic, sets out for Lord Baltimore’s new colony in search of personal and religious freedom. On the same ship is Anicah Sparrow, an orphan who has been kidnapped to serve as an indentured servant in the colony. The reality of their new home is much harsher than expected, but Anicah finds love and a better life. Ultimately Margaret moves on in her search for freedom.
Maryland native Robson has meticulously researched her work, using a mix of real and fictional characters.
As author of several historical novels including The Tokaido Road, she has an eye for the details of everyday life and an ear for the rich and earthy language of the period. Her novel will do well in most historical fiction collections.”
“Richly detailed, first-rate tale of the religious, social, and political conflicts during the colonizing of Maryland (1638-49), based on the extraordinary lives of real people.
Robson’s earlier boisterous historicals (paperback originals) dealt with 19th century trials and tragedy among Native Americans; The Tokaido Road (1991 hardcover) was set in feudal Japan.
This time, her story begins aboard a ship (“as ungainly as a gourd”) undertaking a hideous three-month voyage from Bristol, England, to the Maryland plantation of Lord Baltimore. Among those sailing, with varying degrees of fortitude: the upper-caste Catholic Brent’s; capable intelligent spinster Margaret, land-investing on her own; Margaret’s fey, saintly sister Mary; and two amiable, weak brothers. Down in the hold are the future indentured servants for the colony, including a kidnapped Bristol pickpocket, young Anicah and another teenaged victim, Martin. At last the boatload of hopeless and hopefuls arrives in Mary’s Land – a half-wild, haphazardly planted settlement.
On hand to greet the Brent’s are the worn gentlemanly governor Calvert and his sheriff, irreverent Robert Vaughan, who will become Margaret’s fast friend. Anicah can hardly believe her luck in being indentured to a tavern-keeper (food and drink to pinch and constant revelry!), but Martin fares ill and finally escapes to the local Indian tribe, one of whose members becomes a friend of the Brent’s. Trouble brews in the form of contentious Virginia settlers, fanatic Protestant enclaves, and in aftershocks from the simmering Cromwell rebellion in England.
Meanwhile, Margaret oversees tobacco crops, the stabilizing of a household, and the keeping a weather eye on the parliament (though as a woman, she’s not allowed in). Throughout, these post-Elizabethans react with timeless bravery. Their punishments are cruel, their hierarchies absolute, but there’s also song, poetry, bawdy humor, and their period’s obsession with love and death.”
“Memorable character, scenes, and lilting dialogue: a stylish, superior historical.” (Literary Guild alternate selection) Kirkus Reviews
“I thought it was time to write about my people,” says Lucia St. Clair Robson. The Arnold-based author has published novels about the Seminoles, the Comanches and the Cherokee, the Japanese. But not about Anglo-Saxons. Marylanders. Episcopalians. More properly Anglicans, Robson adds, making a nice distinction in favor of the historical accuracy that’s trademark to the former Anne Arundel County public librarian. Maryland settlers were Catholic, Puritan and, for what we might call Episcopalian-Anglican.
“This urge gave impetus to Robson’s much talked -about new novel, Mary’s Land, a 460-page story set in the founding days of Maryland over 300 years ago. Although the book is sold as a romance, it’s more properly an accurate historical novel with some romantic interest. As in all her novels, Robson has framed Mary’s Land on hard research. Emerging from her research are tough people living out tough lives in a hostile environment. Described are the conditions under which Lord Baltimore’s settlers struggled: deprivation and disease, filth and fatigue, and – perhaps above all – factionalism, as people of hostile religions tried to survive alongside one another and the native population.
“The novel’s accuracy extends to language. It’s full of the blunt words and phrases the settlers used for body parts, functions, smells and sounds, words common then. “Diaries are one sources, but Shakespeare is another. His plays are full of it. And Ben Johnson reflected his times and language accurately,” Robson explains. Many of those direct Anglo-Saxon terms are no longer part of our vocabulary. Why? “The Puritans won,” says Robson, “and we view these words today through the filter of Victorian and Puritan customs.”
“The action in the earthy story of settlement and settlers moves from bustling English port of Bristol to barren St. Mary’s City. We see much of this through the eyes of two remarkable women. The first, young Anicah, is a figment of Robson’s imagination, a guttersnipe kidnapped and indentured to work in North America. She is a composite of the servants who were the backbone of the colony: sturdy, profane, quick-witted – a survivor. The second, Margaret Brent, is a well-documented person, a woman of wealth and determination who searched for a haven in which to practice her Catholicism. Margaret alone would have made a fine story, but Anicah brings a lusty, human dimension that the devout never-wed Margaret lacked.
“Mary’s Land is not an elegant story. But if you’re interested in an accurate portrayal of Maryland’s early conditions and the life of her settlers, read this book that is at times comic, at times tragic, at times instructive and always mesmerizing.”