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Alice tiptoed into the hallway. Perhaps it was a blessing she was still in mourning, for there would be less risk of being seen. Wheeler would be watching out, and his eyes were sharp as pikes–he would spot any movement, any slight shift in the features of the landscape.
She reached up to the peg for her black bonnet and put it on, pulling the lace veiling down so it hid her face. Regretfully, she looked down at her narrow feet, shod now in pale yellow sateen. This was her favourite pair of shoes, in a style considered far too fancy these days.
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"The Civil War and its aftermath have finished and the King is back on his throne, but the memories of the awful conflict are never far from people’s minds. In Westmoreland, Alice Ibbetson mourns the death of her young sister and takes solace only in the painting and propagating of wild plants. To this end she steals the almost mystical orchid known as the lady’s slipper from land belonging to Richard Wheeler.
Wheeler, an ex-soldier and Quaker, is drawn to Alice, but longs for the return of his orchid as a token of his faith. At the same time he is being drawn into the political maelstrom again when the Quakers start to make a stand against oppression. But Alice and Richard are not the only ones with their eyes on the prize. Sir Geoffrey Fisk believes that the lady’s slipper will restore his fortune and his health. Wise woman Margaret Poulter is also drawn to its reputed medicinal powers.
Then a murder takes place and Alice finds herself fighting for her freedom and her life. With so many people turning against her, Alice finds that the one person she can trust is the one she has been lying to all along.
The Lady’s Slipper is a fabulous debut novel from Deborah Swift. Using prose that is remarkable for its simplicity, clarity and beauty – her attention to detail is commendable – she effortlessly evokes the early years of the Restoration and the beginnings of the Quaker movement. The novel grips from the opening lines and carries the interest throughout. The several plot strands are seamlessly blended and come together in a wholly satisfying conclusion. Her characters are so real that they linger in the mind long after the book is back on the shelf.
DEBORAH SWIFT, a set and costume designer for the BBC, lives in Windermere, England. The Lady’s Slipper, shortlisted for The Impress Novelists Prize in 2007, was inspired by her own discovery of the rare orchid during a summer walk.