“There’s worse beds than the grave.”
Like the plaintive cry of a frightened child, the voices of two women rise above the troubled history of the Lost Colony of Roanoke Virginia in the 1580s. Daughter of the governor of the party that will attempt to colonize Virginia for Queen Elizabeth, Elenor White Dare begs her father, John White, to allow her to accompany the voyage. Successful finally in her entreaty, Elenor, a single woman, must marry before she will be allowed to travel with the others, her husband, Ananais Dare, a large man of few words.
Already with child by the time of the voyage, Elenor is determined, harvesting dreams of freedom, obsessed with the new life that awaits her. She is attended by a servant, Margaret Lawrence, a young woman with no prospects who constantly hopes for Elenor’s friendship but later realizes the impossibility of such a thing. In the darkest recesses of the ship, the settlers endure, looking to John White for strength only to find him lacking.
A second ship bearing critical supplies arrives soon after the settlers, delivering the low Roger Bailey to the bare-bones settlement. Amazed to have survived the journey, Elenor and Meg are caught up in the act of survival, Elenor only vaguely aware of her father’s weaknesses and inability to lead the men. Eventually, John White returns to England to beg for more ships and supplies, leaving the few travelers until his projected return three years later.
Because the colonists have been deposited not on Chesapeake’s Bay but further south on the coast, they are less protected from Indian raiders who pose a constant threat, easy prey to hostile forays. In the end, all fall victim to the scarcity of food and resources, forced to entreat the Indians on Croatoan Island for shelter and corn, a fated journey that leaves all lost in the pages of history. These brave and desperate individuals meet a fate that remains a mystery, but it is through the eyes of two disparate characters that this powerful tale is delivered.
Elenor sees the journey as the only adventure available in her restricted life, her heart set on painting, as her father did before succumbing to his wanderlust for colonization, a fixation that erases all sense from his days. Giving birth to the first English child born in the colonies, Virginia Dare, Elenor remains unsettled even in this new place, all but oblivious to Margaret, her indentured servant.
Margaret provides an altogether different perspective to the ordeal, thrust from London by the master who dictates her future. Yearning for affection from Elenor, she finds none, learning instead to forge her own relationships, demanding some small measure of dignity from her meager life. Watching events from the perspective of servitude, Meg is aware of the unrest bubbling through the others, the random violence and need to grab whatever happiness is at hand.
A brutal, scorching portrait of a fated colony, Homsher captures the essence of such a risky endeavor and the hope-cum-despair that ensues over time, two brave souls but footnotes to history.