Revenge and Retribution (Book VI in The Graham Saga)
by Anna Belfrage
A B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree
The first installment of this series, A Rip in the Veil, opens with a frustrated Alexandra Lind hurriedly trying to make her way to an Edinburgh meeting when she encounters a crossroads and a thunderstorm, with inconceivably shocking and perilous consequences. The circumstantial combination creates a rent in the fabric of time, and results in a topological defect, as it were, an unstable vacuum that momentarily lifts the divide between eras and violently pulls her through, landing the frightened woman in 17th century Scotland.
Many of us have expressed the desire—for the sake of curiosity if nothing else—to travel through time, with the caveat that we make it back, of course. Alex, however, meets up with Matthew Graham, an escaped convict wrongfully imprisoned, making his way home, and later concludes she wants to stay. She isn’t idealistic about the shift; she’s not fond of a number of 1658 ways of life and misses parts of her old existence, but decides this time she has been brought to is where she is meant to be, and Matthew is who she is meant to be with. Interestingly, her son Isaac is a part of her old life she doesn’t seem to miss much; Alex carries emotional baggage related to the boy’s birth and she opens up to Matthew regarding this and other portions of her past.
Or would that be her future? This is a question Alex plays with throughout the series, and when we meet up with her again in Revenge and Retribution we find she has known, despite chronological numbers, where her future really is. Since A Rip in the Veil and four subsequent books in the set, Alex’s family have grown and the religious persecution they escape about mid-series has led them to the colony of Maryland. The lifestyle has been difficult but not without rewards and an alliance of sorts has developed between the Grahams and a local tribe of Natives. Alex fears the cost of this alliance, not only from some settlers out to exact revenge, but also the very group from which she has earned a measure of respect.
As in the series’ other installations, Belfrage is tasked with a precarious balancing act: she must weigh the sensibilities of the day with the reality that Alex carries with her: a consciousness often in defiance of those perceptions. So it is not unfitting for Alex to take some of the steps she does, though sometimes foolhardy, given her past experiences in this new/old time. Equally, it makes sense, historically speaking, to observe people referring to indentured servants and slaves the way we might speak of the weather: it varies but it is. Such competing concepts existing side by side—albeit one very much in the minority and hidden from most others—require careful maintenance to remain in the realm of the feasible, and Belfrage not only pulls it off, but also makes it appear easy.
Following a point in which Alex’s transport is threatened with exposure and she a dreaded accusation of witchcraft, she prepares for a hearing at which she will testify on her own behalf.
“What will they ask me?” Alex asked Matthew as he accompanied her to the meeting house later that same day. “It’s not as if I know the whole bloody Bible by heart, is it?”
“It will help if you don’t refer to the Holy Writ as the ‘bloody Bible’,” he said drily. “They’ll ask you from the catechism, and you know most of it.”
“Unfortunately, I don’t always agree with it.”
“That you must keep to yourself. Concentrate on the questions and on replying to them, not on voicing your opinions as to how Lot treated his daughters, or how unfair some of the laws are to women.”
“Hmm.” Alex wiped her hand surreptitiously against her skirts.
All in all, it wasn’t too bad, Alex thought afterwards, curtseying to one after another of the ministers. Despite being barraged by questions from Minister Macpherson, she had acquitted herself well enough to earn herself a wink from Minister Walker.
Although all the previous novels entail some violence and tragedy, within Revenge and Retribution the Grahams reach a turning point, even if they aren’t quite as aware of it as they ought to be. Several previous events, while not occupying large parts of the stories in which they are contained, foreshadow a system that now seems to be breaking apart, or leading to something much larger than anyone might have ever conceived possible. A darker force is ushered in, its influence silently spread, interestingly enough through the keeping of secrets.
We as readers, however, have all the links that individual characters lack, and see the ominous overtones hovering like a dark cloud, embodied at one point in a Voice:
After death—was the Voice dead?
The Voice laughed. Death was a relative in respect of time. For a person born in the future to fall back and die in this time, how could they be dead if they had as yet not been born? No, the Voice clarified, some people died—the lucky ones.
This is not a contemplation—philosophical or realistic—that has escaped Alex. She has learned to move forward, but is intelligent enough to be afraid of certain conditions, even when—especially when—she doesn’t know exactly what they entail. Belfrage’s treatment of Alex very wisely assigns her vulnerabilities peculiar to her, and her anger becomes more wild as events stack up against her. She finds comfort in her husband, Matthew, even following often bitter arguments that test boundaries: between the pair as a couple as well as over the times each comes from. Belfrage’s masterful, lyrical introspections show us both the strengths and frailties within Alex, and brings us, wherever she may be, to the scene as if we are experiencing the moment ourselves.
They lapsed into a comfortable silence, watching as the sun transformed the frosted trees into prisms of magical colour. It was very quiet, the migrating birds long gone, and the remaining sparrows and thrushes keeping low to the ground, or at least going about their business without expending energy on making noise. A crow cawed, it cawed again, and then it was all absolute stillness.
Within the pages of Revenge and Retribution is when Alex faces what may be her most difficult challenges yet. There is indeed a lot of violence and for this reviewer it was the most difficult to read of all novels in the Saga. Belfrage skillfully shows Alex in the same boat experiencing it all, as well as the manner in which she opens up to faith, finding some comfort within and reaching out to her past. Readers feel for Alex’s entanglements, and perhaps the most enthusiastic nod for Belfrage’s talent is how we respond as if Alex were a close friend, someone we care about who is confused and hurting. The author through the series enables each novel to be stand-alones, but rest assured readers will not be satisfied with that, as the next book will always be eagerly sought.
Read my review for A Rip in the Veil (Book I in The Graham Saga)
Read my review for Like Chaff in the Wind (Book II in The Graham Saga)
Read my review for The Prodigal Son (Book III in The Graham Saga) (with author interview)
Read my review for A Newfound Land (Book IV in The Graham Saga)
Read my review for Serpents in the Garden (Book V in The Graham Saga)
Anne Belfrage can be found at her blog, which also maps out the The Graham Saga series for readers. Find her as well at Twitter, Facebook and at her Amazon author page, where you can also learn about her newest novel, In the Shadow of the Storm, first in her new series, The King’s Greatest Enemy.
This review previously appeared at the blog’s alternate location and a copy of Revenge and Retribution provided in exchange for an honest review.