These are three separate books, not a series or anything (in fact, they can’t really take place in the same fictional universe, since the events of Sheila Na’Geira’s life as narrated in Easton seem to contradict what happens in NaGeira, so they are clearly distinct stories). But I read them all in fairly quick succession over the last couple of weeks, which is why I’m reviewing them together. They are all set in the early 1600s, focusing on historical and/or legendary characters who have cast long shadows over Newfoundland’s early history — the colonizer John Guy, the pirate Peter Easton, and the Irish “princess” Sheila Na’Geira. Butler’s writing is vivid, fluent, and filled with wonderful period detail, bringing these historical names and legends to life in a series of revealing snapshots.
I say “snapshot” because each of these is a short book, dealing with only a narrow slice in a very broad life. NaGeira has the broadest scope, telling the story of the legendary Sheila’s early life from the perspective of the elderly Sheila, but even then, it’s only a glimpse into the life of a woman who, if she really lived, must have had a hugely varied and fascinating life that spanned decades in both the Old World and the New. Cupids is less about John Guy’s founding of the Cuper’s Cove colony and more about a single harrowing incident in which he tries to raise funds back in England to continue the venture — and even in that incident, it’s a young man named Bartholemew and his accomplice Helen who steal the story right out from under John Guy. Peter Easton is a significant and chilling presence in the novel Easton, but the main character is his prisoner George Dawson, a naval officer at first charmed and then horrified by what he learns about the smooth, urbane pirate captain.
The overall effect of reading these three short novels close together (which I chose to do because I am thinking about writing a story set in this time period, in which some of these historical figures will appear as minor characters) is of walking along a street at night, looking into the lit windows of houses. These bright windows frame a brief glimpse of the lives people live inside these rooms — a glimpse that’s all the more tantalizing because we know so much more lies beyond. Butler is a master of creating these vivid, fascinating windows into the lives of people we have known for so long only as names. I thoroughly enjoyed all three books.