4 out of 4 stars
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Some twenty years ago, Anstey left his distant planet and future time to settle on Earth with enough indentured servants, political lackeys, and brutal "enforcers" to support the luxurious lifestyle he desired. Now well established on a secluded estate along the Devon coast in Elizabethan times, he prospers by trafficking in drugs and slaves. Imprisoned in caves under Anstey's mansion, their activities constantly monitored, his workers grow restless.
Thomas Alban, an enforcer who hates his work, has joined with friends to develop a plan to escape from Anstey. One day he hears cries for help coming from the beach. It's Katherine (Kat) Wrenn, condemned as a witch by fellow villagers and lashed to a pole so she will drown at high tide. Thomas and his friend Stephen rescue her. Both are surprised to find that Kat has the same special powers that they have, although she is not from their planet.
Then the rebel group learns that one of their members has betrayed them to Anstey. They must execute their escape plan that same night. Kat helps by providing a local hideout, but the getaway is not entirely successful. Anstey is in pursuit. Arguing among themselves, the rebels go off in different directions, unsure whom they can trust and how much Anstey knows. Will they ever be free of Anstey's iron grip?
One of the most original and appealing aspects of Surviving Anstey is the connection that slowly develops between Kat and Thomas. Each has different strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes Kat rescues the group from peril with the special talents that made villagers think she was a witch; sometimes Thomas does the rescuing. But both have doubts about their own capabilities and self-worth. And Thomas is prone to periods of depression, while Kat is more levelheaded. But they discuss their problems and continue to strengthen their relationship.
The author's decision to alternate the narration between Kat in the first person and Thomas in the third person gives more immediacy to Kat's story and makes her seem the central character, definitely a plus for those who appreciate novels with strong female characters. Occasionally Anstey's point of view appears at the end of a chapter, revealing the secrets he knows and the strategies he is planning. This technique creates a continuous feeling of suspense, with the reader wondering right up to the last few pages whether the escapees will evade Anstey's dire plots.
Vivid descriptions of the Devon coast also contribute to the pleasure of reading this story. Perilous tides, secret caves, and rocky offshore islands concealing bands of pirates are just a few of the elements that create an atmosphere of tension and danger.
As the first volume of a trilogy, Surviving Anstey has an excellent ending. All the plot threads from the events in this book are nicely resolved. And the author provides just enough hints of future possibilities to whet readers' appetite for the next book.
Surviving Anstey by Susan Hancock deserves 4 out of 4 stars for its exciting and suspenseful plot, well-developed characters, and convincing sense of time and place. It is well written and well edited. However, this book is strictly for adults. Although the violence, torture, sex, and profanity are perfectly realistic for the story, particularly since it is set in rowdy Elizabethan times, it is not suitable for anyone younger than 16-18 years old.
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