"Gold is more than greed. It is magic, perhaps the last magic. Alchemists summon it from stone, from scarabs, from bats' wings and the blood of black cats. It is an acid that eats away the will to create and to make instead of to acquire and command and conquer.....Gold is the greatest weapon of mass destruction ever discovered."
When Queen Elizabeth I was in her fifties and had held the throne of England for over twenty five years, her country was a vast web of spies. The Queen was past the age of childbirth and all pretense of a political marriage was fading away. Plots against her life were thick on the ground and war with Spain was imminent. And the Queen needed what monarchs of that age were always short of...MONEY. So, an expedition to the New World is undertaken to harvest the gold and wealth rumored to be found there.
The Queen's advisor, William Cecil, is not the only spymaster in England but he is by far the greatest. Dubbed "The Spider," his huge spy network has protected the Queen from the hundreds of attempts on her life that have been made over the years from various quarters. Two spies, Robert Mowbray and Gabriel North were in the right place at the right time to thwart one such attack. As a result, they are selected to accompany the expedition and to take part in the colonization of Roanoke.
Gabriel is assigned the task of doing whatever is necessary to coax the treasure out of the beautiful Princess of the native Indians, Naia, and bring it back to fill England's coffers. The fact that there is no gold on Roanoke means little to the leaders of the expedition. They are convinced that the gold is being hidden from them and are ruthless in their pursuit of their goal.
It soon becomes clear that the colonists have been dropped on Roanoke completely unprepared and woefully under supplied for life in America. Though part of the spy network, Robert and Gabriel have no idea of the extent to which their own lives and the lives of the colonists have been used in a political game of cat and mouse.
The novelist's answer to the old mystery of what happened to the vanished English colony on Roanoke Island is skilfully woven into this fascinating story. I would recommend Roanoke to anyone who likes historical fiction or mysteries. Margaret Lawrence has a lovely, lyrical way of structuring sentences that I find particularly unique and enjoyable to read:
"There are fragments of living that slip beyond time and lodge themselves permanently in the present, that bring you suddenly out of hiding and drench you with a precious mortality."
The author's earlier historical mystery trilogy set in Colonial America were also excellent and recommended: Hearts and Bones, Blood Red Roses, and The Burning Bride.
Roanoke: A Novel of Elizabethan Intrigue by Margaret Lawrence is published by Delacorte Press. ISBN 978-0-385-34237-7.