cover image The Lady's Slipper

The Lady's Slipper

Deborah Swift, St. Martin's Griffin, $14.99 trade paper (436p) ISBN 978-0312638337

Civil War in England has left tempers high as King Charles II returns from exile in 1660 in Swift's uneven debut. Having seen the horrors of war, Richard Wheeler converts to Quakerism, an unpopular religion. His neighbor, Alice Ibbetson, is so taken with the Lady's Slipper, a rare orchid that grows on his land, that she steals it, drawing the two of them into a complicated web of politics, lies, and violence at the hands of local landholder Geoffrey Fisk. The Quakers, whose concept of all men being equal, infuriates Fisk and he wants to see them eliminated, starting with Richard. Swift has a difficult time creating believable characters; Alice's obsession with the orchid is so extreme as to be laughable, Richard is an awfully bland hero, and Geoffrey is the requisite broadly-drawn villain. While the writing moves swiftly, too many plot lines and too little historical context make it hard for those unfamiliar with the period to understand the underlying class and religious tensions. (Dec.)