Monday, 21 April 2014

Serpents in the Garden by Anna Belfrage - Reviewed by Louise E. Rule

Anna Belfrage continues her on-going Graham Saga with Serpents in the Garden, after which we are promised at least three more books in this exciting series.

In Serpents in the Garden, book five in The Graham Saga, we are back following Alex Lind from the 20th century and her husband, Matthew, from the 17th century, thrown together through a rift in time, carrying on their adventures in the New World. Maryland is where they have settled since fleeing their beloved Hillview in Scotland because of Matthew's religious convictions. Now they are settled in their new home which has been named Graham's Garden.

What a book this is! There is more mayhem, more fighting, and Anna certainly doesn't give her readers any respite from the drama of living in 17th century Maryland. There are the old adversaries, and there are also some new and disturbing ones. 

We find now that Alex and Matthew's sons Daniel and Jacob are grown: Daniel is imminently going off to Boston where he will train to be a minister, and Jacob has been assigned to the Hancock family where he is learning to become a lawyer's clerk, as described in book four, A Newfound Land.

In book five Jacob has been apprenticed to Mr Hancock for four years living under their roof. Betty Hancock had been contracted to be betrothed to him in book four, but they have only ever seen themselves as brother and sister, that is until now. In recent months they begin to see each other as more like the betrothed that they will become. Jacob on the other hand has no intention of continuing his apprenticeship with Betty's father. He wants to travel, see the world, and have adventures. They both know that this would be frowned upon, and not allowed. Jacob should stay and complete his apprenticeship with Mr Hancock. If Jacob absconded Mr Hancock would have his contract annulled, thus making Betty free to be betrothed to another. Neither Jacob nor Betty want this, so Jacob suggests to Betty that they should be handfasted before he leaves.

They make simple vows handfasting themselves together. Jacob beds Betty, their first time, thus consummating their union. Later that night Jacob leaves by the window with his few belongings to set off on his adventures, leaving Betty alone to face the trouble that she knows herself to be in. Jacob had not only shamed himself, but Betty and his mother and father, too. What would her father say when he found out? What would Alex and Matthew say when they found out? How much trouble would they find themselves in? Were they even old enough to understand the ramifications of their deeds? The unfolding story is filled with emotions both dire and unforgiving.

Jacob's adventures on board the Regina Anne, the boat onto which he smuggles himself, are everything that a boy's own adventurer would want. The captain of the Regina Anne is a friend of the Graham family, as it was he whose ship had carried Alex across the ocean to rescue Matthew all those years ago, and carried them back again when they decided to settle in the New World. Captain Miles soon found Jacob stowed away on the boat: 

...["J]acob Graham." He sighed. "And what am I to do with you? Whip you and set you ashore?" Jacob grinned. The coast was dwindling fast behind him, and as to the whipping - no, he didn't much believe in it. 
"I want to see the world," Jacob said, "now, before I grow too old." 
Captain Miles huffed with exasperation. "And do your parents know where you've gone?" 
Jacob hitched his shoulders. "I left them a letter," he replied in a tone far more relaxed than he was. "You left them a letter? Daft lad! Matthew Graham is not going to like this, is he?" 
Jacob ducked his head. A pit yawned inside of him at the thought of Da's reactio[n.]...

So, the dye is set, and Jacob's adventures bring him in contact with the estranged brother of his father. The infamous and evil Luke Graham. We see a different side to Luke Graham in Serpents in the Garden, one that is both surprising and disconcerting. You feel as though you are being reeled in by his change in character. Is it a change in character, or has he just become more subtle?

Anna seamlessly reminds previous readers of events that have gone before in such a way that a new reader will be kept fully informed without realising that it is a recap. This is an art that Anna does really well, almost like invisible mending. Each book in the series can be read as a stand-alone novel, so there are no loose ends; each one is woven together as an artisan would weave a bolt of cloth. The infamous and treacherous Burley brothers are back in action. Will they succeed in maiming or killing Matthew for killing their brother? Will they destroy Graham's Garden? There is also Angus, an indentured lad paying off his and his dead father's passage to the New Land, and working for Matthew. He is a troubled soul, and has been drawn to Daniel in a loving way. What will become of Angus when the Grahams find out? 

As with all Anna's books about The Graham Saga, the loving and tender moments between Alex and Matthew are described in detail and with great finesse. Though some may just think the imagination would serve better, it does demonstrate the loving bond between Alex Lind of the 20th century and Matthew Graham of the 17th century, and just why Alex does not want, under any circumstances, to travel back to her own time. Not only do we have the loving moments between Alex and Matthew, their eldest children are of an age that their loving moments too are now described. Some may think the detail too much, and the cliché 'less is more' would serve better. It is clearly subjective.

Anna Belfrage
Anna's writing style is fluid, and fills the readers' imaginations with cinematic images to the point where readers feels themselves peeking from behind a tree, or through a doorway, or under a window, just observing the events of the Grahams as their lives unfold on the pages of her novel. Her great prowess is creating drama, intrigue, terror, and elation to perfection. I cannot imagine a reader not being caught up in the excitement of her novels. I know just a handful of authors who can accomplish this, and I admire them all. It is a gift to have the art of writing such prose.

I have read many series by other authors, and when their series have come to an end I have felt that it was the right thing to do. I dread, however, the day that The Graham Saga comes to an end. I think I shall feel bereft. I have read all of the books in the series several times now, and cannot imagine not waiting for the next book to be released. Yes I am a great admirer of Anna Belfrage's work. Yes I will always recommend her books, and yes I shall miss the Grahams immensely when the saga comes to a close.

But in the meantime the Grahams have many more adventures to come. Visit Anna's blog to read more about them. There are also PDFs to download of back stories to go with the books that have already been published. Some of these have been done in such a way that it is as if Anna is interviewing Alex and Matthew. It's really quite enchanting.

There is a free copy of Serpents in the Garden on offer. To be in with a chance to win a copy all you have to do to go into the draw is leave a comment here on the blog or on our Facebook page.

Anna Belfrage can be found on her website here and on Facebook.

The other titles in The Graham Saga:
A Rip in the Veil
Like Chaff in the Wind
The Prodigal Son
A Newfound Land


  1. Fantastic analysis of what appears to be a great book. Hope I win a copy

  2. Nice review. Anna's books are on my TBR list. I've been thinking I should get into this series for some time now.

  3. Thank you for a beautiful review, Louise!

  4. A comprehensive review. I had not heard of The Graham Saga. It's an original and intriguing idea to have a woman from the 20th century living in the 17th century, and following her family life. And this is book number five, with another three on the way - I must have a look at Anna's website to learn more!