Set in the 1790s, war between Britain, France and Spain forms the background to Beverley Elphick’s much-anticipated second novel, Retribution. Men and boys are being forced onto the King’s ships by unscrupulous press gangs while the womenfolk left behind struggle to deal with the consequences at home of food-shortages, hunger and rampant disease, as well as smuggling and street crime. In the second of a trilogy beginning with the popular Three Round Towers, Esther Coad is once again on her old stomping ground of Lewes in East Sussex, looking forward to her wedding and hoping to continue her midwifery training with Dr Grieve despite the resistance of Will, her husband-to-be. As before, she moves betwixt and between extremes of wealth and poverty, using her many skills to bring assistance to disadvantaged women in the later stages of pregnancy. But bad blood and old grievances mean that there are those who will stop at nothing to bring down both Esther and the child Beth whose troublesome birth lies at the heart of this tale.
The difficulties and dangers of the times are placed in context by factual snippets from historical documents and local newspapers of the time including The Sussex Weekly Advertiser & Lewes Journal. It is not by choice that Esther’s horizons are expanded far beyond those of home and her resourcefulness tested to the limit when she finds herself on a perilous journey from which there appears to be no return. Will Esther’s fate turn out to be once more that of the outcast or will she find at last the happiness and security she so craves?