They say the devil’s water, it ain’t so sweet
You don’t have to drink right now
But you can dip your feet
Every once in a little while
Devil Water tells the story of Charles Radclyffe and his daughter by a secret marriage, Jenny. Charles is the youngest brother of James Radclyffe, the 3rd Earl of Derwentwater (I love saying and reading that name – I don’t know why). Shortly after Charles meets and becomes intimate with Jenny’s mother, Meg Snowden, James returns to England after living abroad with the Pretender, James Francis Edward Stuart. James adores his cousin James and longs for the day when James is formally recognized as the King of England. He quickly becomes Charles’ mentor effortlessly converted Charles as a Jacobitism. Jenny was conceived before James’ return. Her family on her mother’s side forced Charles into a marriage on fear of death. Despite this, he fell in love with Jenny the first time he saw her. It pained him more than he imagined when he was not allowed to be with his family.
It wasn’t until the failed Jacobite Rebellion of 1715 that Jenny reenters his life. While preparing for the rebellion, Charles convinces Meg, his secret bride, to allow him to raise her in a manner more befitting Jenny’s station as a Radclyffe. While imprisoned and waiting death for high treason, he convinces Elizabeth Lee, and old flame, to take Jenny in and raise her in London. She is well liked and well cared for in the Lee household. She is thankful for the them and is blessed with a friend in Evelyn Byrd, the daughter of William Byrd of Virginia. Still, Jenny never feels as though she belongs anywhere. Even when Charles returns to take her to the continent to live with his new family, Jenny feels like an outsider. The only person with whom she feels at home is Rob Wilson, a young man who helped her family in Northumberland. When Rob is transported to Virginia for a criminal act he committed in order to save her life, Jenny jumps at the chance to travel with Evelyn to the Colonies.
Until picking up this novel, I knew almost nothing about the Jacobites or the political climate in England that created that rift. The most compelling portions of this novel revolved around James Radclyffe and his participation in The Fifteen. His decision to take up his sword and fight when he felt certain it would mean his own demise was powerful. Although he sensed the weakness in his cousin, he fought for the Stuarts and for his faith. His dedication, loyalty, and faith in both God and man makes him a strong character. It is easy to understand how his wife could fall apart after his execution.
I sincerely doubt that Brandon Flowers or any other member of The Killers has read Devil Water, but it was very interesting to revisit this song while I was reading this book. Jenny has a constant desire for a sense of home. A sense she only really had when she was a young girl in Northumberland. She finds some peace with Rob Wilson, but she is not complete without her father. This fight costs her dearly and the reader feels this as well. Because Rob and Charles are an ocean and an ideology apart, Jenny is never complete. Her romance with Rob never has the passion that was present another of Seton’s novels, The Winthrop Woman. This bothered me while reading the novel. It wasn’t until I sat down to write this review that it occurred to me that this distance between Rob and Jenny made sense. It’s not that the author could have made their relationship more compelling and did not. It’s that Jenny’s two halves could never be happily reconciled with one another.
Jenny is an unconventional heroine. She cannot escape her fate, but she faces life bravely and never loses her dignity. Perhaps this is the greatest gift she ever received from her father. I highly recommend this novel and plan to read all of Seton’s work.
To buy this novel, click here.