In 1649, Jan Brunt arrives in Great Britain from the Netherlands to work on draining and developing an expanse of marshy wetlands known as the Great Level. It is here in this wild country that he meets Eliza, a local woman whose love overturns his ordered vision.
... sometimes lovely, sometimes infuriating ... Tillyard is a wonderfully spacious writer, and in brilliant biographies like Aristocrats she gives her knowledge room to breathe. But readers need a different kind of attention in fiction. Jan and Eliza’s connection has huge significance since this twist of the novel’s plot does what riots and resistance did in historical fact, but their love story is thin. We don’t have much opportunity to imagine it when we’re in a museum display ... the past keeps surfacing, but it’s full of arbitrary things ... Everything could have a footnote ... Tillyard is a lovely writer, and at times she can take your breath away, but she might sometimes need to leave things out. Her storytelling would have the room it needs to sing.
In expressive prose, Tillyard conjures the wetlands, the nature of the work, and colonial America, especially Nieuw Amsterdam and the plantations of Virginia. The atmosphere of the marshlands is at once otherworldly, menacing, and fascinating. Tillyard’s greatest accomplishment, however, lies in characterization, especially of Jan. The reader sees this historical world through his unique perspective, that of an engineer who finds beauty in order, yet is also moved by the creativity of nature and the ingenuity of individuals scorned by society. Tillyard’s beautifully written novel evokes both a historical world and a great feat of engineering.
Historian and author Tillyard’s lyrical novel aptly recounts the dour days of Cromwell, the promise of the Restoration Era, and everyday life during those times, offering something for history buffs and romantics alike.