Monday, 23 March 2020

Book review : On Wilder Seas - Nikki Marmery

Everyone has heard of Sir Francis Drake and his daring adventures around the world, voyaging across the uncharted oceans, discovering new lands and amassing great wealth for Queen Elizabeth I, but what do we really know about his life on the seas? What do we know about those that he sailed with? Author Nikki Marmery presents us with a work of historical fiction, researched over a whole decade, which offers a new look at his travels and his personality, told through the eyes of a hidden character who has been largely left out of historical tales, Maria, or as the book is subtitled, The Woman on the Golden Hind.

The book begins in April 1579, when two ships meet off the Pacific coast of New Spain. After capturing the Spanish galleon, which came to be known as the Cacafuego (or Fireshitter), and taking hold of its impressive quantities of treasure, Drake courteously dined with the Spanish officers, before freeing them, with a gift appropriate to their rank and a letter of safe conduct. This much can be read in the history books, but the character that this book follows is that of Maria, the Spanish captain's woman, who requests of Sir Francis Drake to join his ship. Quite possibly to annoy the Spaniard, he agrees and Maria sets sail on the Golden Hind.

I'd never really thought about life on board, but Maria soon discovers that dangers lurk both in the oceans and on the ship, with the sexually frustrated men eager to get their hands on what they see as fair sport. She defends herself and her honour, helped by a young deckhand, and soon works her way into the captain's cabin, which at least offers her some safety. But Maria has a secret stowaway - the child that she carries in her belly.

As the journey continues, Maria allows us to glimpse the journey and the discoveries of Sir Francis Drake, as well as the failed attempt to secure a passage home around the top of the United States. After the brutal fighting with the Spaniards towards the south, the meetings with the American tribes are more peaceful, then things go badly wrong. Against all odds, Maria must find a way to secure a safe future for her and her child.

I was swept up in the drama and excitement of the voyages on the high seas, seeing undiscovered lands through new eyes. At the end of the novel, I went to investigate how accurate the story is and, as is explained in the author's note at the end, the novel is a work of fiction based on fact. The character of Maria did exist - a woman of her name was on The Golden Hind for nine months - but apart from the date of her arrival and departure, little is really known of her. Nikki Marmery has created a believable and honourable character, perfect for showing the things that women went through in times past. This undoubtedly explains why the book has been published to coincide with Women's History Month.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £8.99

  • Paperback: 308 pages
  • Publisher: Legend Press (16 Mar. 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1789551137
  • ISBN-13: 978-1789551136
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm

I'm taking part in the On Wilder Seas blog tour - catch up with the other participants below.

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.


  1. It's an amazing story though not that unusual. There were women pirates as well. I remember reading a novel about two pirate women, and I was thinking recently I should dig it out and re-read. On Wilder Seas is an absorbing tale. I'm joining in the tour on the last day.

    1. I saw that you were taking part - look forward to reading your review :)


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