The year is 1742. Goody Brown, saved from drowning and adopted when just a babe, has grown up happily in the smuggling town of Winchelsea. Then, when Goody turns sixteen, her father is murdered in the night by men he thought were friends.
To find justice in a lawless land, Goody must enter the cut-throat world of her father’s killers. With her beloved brother Francis, she joins a rival gang of smugglers. Facing high seas and desperate villains, she also discovers something else: an existence without constraints or expectations, a taste for danger that makes her blood run fast.
Goody was never born to be a gentlewoman. But what will she become instead?
Winchelsea is an electrifying story of vengeance and transformation; a rare, lyrical and transporting work of historical imagination that makes the past so real we can touch it.
‘Imagine Daphne du Maurier crossed with Quentin Tarantino, and you will have some idea of just what a thrilling, bloody and heady ride this novel is’
‘I was riveted. Winchelsea is a great read – terrific narrative drive, credible characters, and such an elegant creation of the backdrop in terms of both time and place’
‘Winchelsea and its fierce young heroine swept me away on an irresistible tide of adventure, revenge, horror, love, smuggling and high drama on land and sea. What a brilliant idea to rework Moonfleet, but add some contemporary touches to the mix. Huge fun, superbly atmospheric and thoroughly enjoyable’
‘What a story! What a heroine! What an adventure! Alex Preston sweeps you from scene to scene, surprise to surprise with all the deft theatricality and fluency of a modern Robert Louis Stevenson. I have rarely read anything so vivid or that makes the 18th century, with all its ambitions, terrors, desires and sheer juiciness, so grippingly alive. Huzzah!’
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 49 members
Several years ago, I spent a memorable summer day walking about Camber Castle ruins, Winchelsea and Winchelsea beach. I found the town history and the surrounding marshy landscape very interesting so Alex Preston’s new historical novel, set in Winchelsea, really appealed. Many thanks to Cannongate and Netgalley for the opportunity to read and review an advance copy.
Set in 1740s, Winchelsea tells the story of Goody Brown and her involvement with the local smuggling gangs and the wider political issues of the day. It’s a very well written, literary adventure yarn with well-developed characters and some good plot surprises, which I don’t want to spoil for anyone. It touches on issues of identity and women’s roles in 18th century Britain and I found it a most enjoyable read. Also a reminder that I’d like to return and explore more of the local landscape.
From the violence of smuggler gangs in the Cinque Ports to the bloody mess of Culloden., this book reminded me of both Moonfleet and The Flight of the Heron, but rewritten for grown-ups. How good is that?
Goody seeks revenge for the death of her father at the hands of a smuggler’s gang. She and her brother join a rival gang, who use Goody’s expert knowledge of the secret tunnels under the town to clear out their opposition and take sole power. Francis, her brother, is a Jacobite and takes his share of the plunder to Charles Stuart to help fund his campaign to take the crown.
Winchelsea is based on real history, and I do enjoy a book where the research is sound. The Hawkhurst Gang were the scourge of the South Coast in the 18th century, lawless and terrorising, and they were indeed overcome by the underdogs who comprised the Goudhurst Militia. Obviously the story is not factual, but many of the individual characters were real people. I liked the perfectly rounded ending, it’s always very satisfying when all the ends are tied up and you aren’t left wondering what happened to anyone.
All in all I enjoyed this, a bit of a rip-roaring adventure which felt quite old-fashioned, but in a good way. I liked that Goody didn’t compromise on her revenge and that Arnold found his strength, and I really like the cover which is both bloody and romantic. I would pick this up every time in a bookshop because of that cover.
Winchelsea recounts the adventures of Goody Brown―smuggler, pirate, lover, avenger, redeemer―in three parts. A feminist tale with lesbian overtones the novel illuminates Goody’s struggle with gender identification. It is a darkly gothic, compelling read which will have readers immersed in old Britain, when wreckers and smugglers menaced the shores.
After her adopted father’s murder at the hands of local smugglers, Goody seeks revenge by joining a rival gang. There she revels in her new self, steeped in violence, murder and mayhem, all of which set her blood pumping. When one conflict with the Revenue men results in a friend being badly injured, Goody knows she may have taken a step too far. Loosely woven around the Jacobite rebellion of the mid-1740s, Goody’s transformation brings her full circle, through vengeance and bloody retribution, home to protect those she loves. We are privy to a dangerous journey, not only her adventures, but her internal journey of self-discovery―where she came from and who she really is, which poses the question “can criminality be inherited?”.
Enticing archaic terminology - kopstoots, hamble-shanked, huzzlecap, wrenked, yelloching, gallimaufry, whemmeling, concinnation, perduration – adds to the atmosphere of a highly innovative, unusual piece of gritty historical fiction.
I was gripped by the beginning of this book. Goody Brown is rescued from her drowning mother's arms by Ezekiel Brown and brought up by his family along with a half brother, a one time slave who jumped ship and was also rescue by Ezekiel. When Goody is sixteen her father is murdered by men she thought were their friends. To avenge his death she and her brother join forces with a rival band of smugglers, men who are prepared to risk their own lives and those of others for financial reward.
Goody discovers however, that her father and subsequently her brother, have an ulterior motive. They are Jacobite supporters, planning the restoration of the 'King Across the Sea'', the son of James VII of Scotland. and are diverting funds to the cause.
The start of the book is told as by Goody herself and is fast paced and full of details about the smuggling, using lyrical language and very evocative of the time. But then, about two thirds through the book we switch to another narrator, who is unknown to us, and although telling Goody's story, does so without her insights and observations.
Having got to grips with this narrator the narrative changes again to yet another - this time known to us - for more detail and finally switches back to Goody for the final chapter. I found the new narrators could not maintain my interest in the story, nor could they keep up the momentum begun by Goody.
Without revealing too much the book deals with several important issues regarding women and their role in society both in the 1740's when the book is set and now.
The language is rich and interesting and the setting is well described and vivid, evoking a great sense of place. The action is exciting. All in all if the author had managed to maintain the early chapters of the book all the way through it would easily have been five stars from me, but I was sadly let down by the second and third parts, so have only given it four stars.
I will however, look out for other works by this author.
With many thanks to Netgalley and Canongate Books and the author for a chance to read an arc in return for an honest review.