AMAZON UK £9.60 / £2.69
Nautical / Adventure
16th Century / Elizabethan Tudor
Ireland / England
At the age of twelve, Mary witnesses her father’s murder and is then raped by the perpetrators, whom she kills. Thus begins the tale “Lady” Mary weaves to Queen Elizabeth while imprisoned in the Tower of London on charges of piracy. Young Mary spends the next few years under the tutelage of a smuggler, where she becomes adept at this trade and falls in love with ships and the sea. A bequest gains her sufficient funds to purchase her own vessel, and she becomes a successful smuggler in her own right.
What Mary lacks is power, and thus she must pay a percentage of her take to the Dowlin brothers, brutal men who kill for sport. But jealousy makes the eldest Dowlin lash out against her, and an innocent child pays the price. Thereafter, Mary bides her time before unleashing her vengeance and stealing his buried treasure. Those two deeds infuriate the other Dowlin brothers, known simply as the Twins, and they vow retribution.
With Ireland no longer a safe haven, Mary and her crew head to the Caribbean. They meet Cortes, an influential businessman in Cuba, and they become partners. Mary and her men bring supplies and luxuries from the Old World to Cortes, who arranges for the authorities to look the other way, and once the ships’ holds are empty, they are laden with goods from the New World and Mary’s men smuggle them into Europe. But the Caribbean is a dangerous place. The Twins haven’t forgotten Mary and when all is ready, they spring their trap. She finds herself betrayed by friends…
The Butcher’s Daughter is a gritty tale not for the faint of heart. It takes place in the years before, during, and after the sailing of the Spanish Armada. McMillan pulls no punches here, and in spite of the violent world in which Mary lives, she possesses a moral compass that draws readers in and never releases them. The story ebbs and flows like the tide with high periods of tension and peaceful interludes where readers can regain their breath. The only place where the story’s pace slows to a snail’s crawl is during the recounting of Spain’s attempt to invade England, and this is perhaps because Mary tells what occurs for too many pages rather than letting readers participate in events as they unfold, as happens throughout the rest of the book.
What makes this novel different from other piratical tales is the time period – Elizabethan – and smuggling. This is not to say pirates don’t make appearances from time to time; they do, and even if the Dowlins claim to be smugglers, their behavior easily compares to such infamous pirates as L’Olonnais or Ned Low. For readers seeking the history behind the fiction, McMillin also includes an afterword where he discusses the dawn of the Age of Sail, Elizabethan ships and guns, and relevant odds and ends of historical facts.
© Cindy Vallar