cover image Virgin Earth

Virgin Earth

Philippa Gregory. St. Martin's Press, $26.95 (576pp) ISBN 978-0-312-20617-8

In the stand-alone sequel to her Earthly Joys, Gregory follows royal gardener John Tradescant the Younger back and forth across the Atlantic between colonial Virginia and war-torn England. When John first travels to Virginia to collect exotic plants in 1638, his guide is a beautiful young Indian girl named Suckahanna. After transporting his specimens to England, he plans to return and marry her, but once at home, he learns that his father has died, leaving a letter suggesting that John marry the efficient Hester Pooks. Needing someone to care for his two children by a previous marriage, as well as for the Tradescant collection of rare objects and the Ark, the family's famous garden, John weds Hester. Meanwhile, the foolish, tyrannical King Charles I is dragging England into a civil war, and John, as a trusted servant, is pulled unwillingly into his service. To avoid having to fight for a cause he does not believe in, John returns to Virginia and Suckahanna, leaving Hester and his children back in England. In Virginia he tries to start a plantation, but having no idea how to live off the land, nears death before he is rescued by the Powhatan, Suckahanna's people. Once again John must choose sides in a war, this time between the Powhatan and the English. John is torn between them, just as he is torn between the two women in each of those separate realms. This hefty epic illuminates the conflicts of the 17th century with clear prose and a believable cast of characters, and will draw in casual readers and lovers of history alike. (Dec.)