It is 1795, and Mary Finch sets off to meet her wealthy uncle, hoping to heal a bitter family estrangement and perhaps to avoid a dismal career teaching at Mrs. Bunbury's school for young ladies. Eager for an adventure, she is soon embroiled in one of frightening proportions, for war is raging across Europe, England faces the threat of invasion, and some secrets are more valuable than gold.
As she uncovers a complex and deadly plot involving ruthless smugglers, secret codes, and a dangerous network of spies and traitors, Mary must learn quickly whom she can trust. The apparently stalwart Captain Holland? The dangerous yet attractive Mr. Déprez? Perhaps the mysterious Hicks or even Mrs. Tipton, who knows what is best for everyone, especially Mary? The price of failure may be her life and the safety of all England.
Discussion Questions 1. What are your final impressions of the world Melikan created? What elements of the story or its construction aid or hamper your immersion into the world of 1790s England? Would you revisit this world again? Why or why not? 2. Describe the circumstances of Mary Finch's life prior to undertaking the journey to Suffolk. To what degree does she conform to or contradict her upbringing? Provide examples of each. 3. What specifically transpires between Mary and William Tracey as she attempts to nurse his wound on the side of the road? What is the significance of this meeting for Mary? How does her retelling of this event become a means of assessing each new person she encounters? 4. What role does social status play in the novel? How does Melikan reveal the social status of the significant characters? What are we to understand about the value of social status and its relationship to an individual's character and future prospects? 5. What is the significance of St. Lucia and India in the story? Which characters have a particular association with those places? 6. Describe Mary's relationship with Captain Holland and Mr. Déprez. How do her conceptions of each evolve over the course of the novel? Whom did you find most attractive or compelling? Why? 7. What is the importance of legal rules in the story? How do legal rules serve as the cause of Mary's familial conflict and the means for her eventual restoration of life circumstances? 8. What is the Blackstone key? What does it unlock? Explain Mary's role in finding the key and its relevance to the mystery at the core of the novel. 9. What was Hicks and Déprez's plan -- or was there more than one? What went awry? What role did they foresee Mary playing? 10. What is the significance of the verse Déprez quotes: "My bonds in thee are all determinate"? What does its utterance allow Mary to conclude about Holland and Déprez? Would you describe either man as Mary's suitor? 11. What is the value of the entire experience for Mary? How is she changed by her adventure, if at all? If not, why not?
Rose Melikan was born in Detroit, Michigan. Since 1993, she has been a Fellow of St. Catharine's College, Cambridge. Her academic research centers on 18th and early 19th British political and constitutional history. She lives in Cambridge, England with her husband.