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Nichola Hall is a successful West End actress with something of a reputation. The backstage gossip has linked her with many a theatrical sex scandal and she's currently involved in a relationship with her married leading man which is making tongues wag once again. Nichola doesn't care about the gossip and in all honesty she's not sure she cares very much for her current lover either.
At the wrap party for the play the guests get into a discussion about past life regression and Nichola thinking it will be no more than a party trick volunteers to undergo regression when Lewis, her lover, claims to be able to hypnotise people. Things, however, do not go exactly to plan and Nichola wakes to find herself not only in an unknown time and location but also in the body of Arabella Foxley who is in the final stages of giving birth!
When the paranormal genre was in its infancy having previously been confined to one or two stand alone novels, the paranormal element was more than likely represented through time travel. Just as today with the proliferation of vampires, werewolves and other creatures of fantasy, there were good and bad time travel novels. 'Banishment' is one of the best I've read and though some may scoff at anything which isn't rooted in our own reality, the way in which the author explains how the heroine manages to find herself in the seventeenth century is executed in a pretty plausible way. Dinah Lampitt has taken Carl Jung's theory of synchronicity and developed it into an excellent story and it really doesn't matter whether one believes in the possibility of regressing to a previous life or takes it with a pinch of salt.
Nichola it seems regresses at the very instant that Arabella dies in childbirth leaving her stranded in the seventeenth century in someone else's body and with a heck of a job to try to prove she hasn't lost her mind during the baby's delivery and to find someone who will believe her incredible tale that she comes from several centuries in the future. Although the story has a strong paranormal element, it also incorporates a very realistic historical theme of life during the English Civil War. Nichola soon discovers that the baby she's delivered has been born out of wedlock and that Arabella is the stepdaughter of Sir Denzil Loxley, head of an aristocratic Oxfordshire family. Arabella was engaged to Michael Morellon, the child's father, but now the betrothal has been broken as the families find themselves on opposite sides of the political divide. Sir Denzil is for the King whilst the Morellons are Parliamentarians.
Nichola really isn't a very likeable character, certainly at the beginning of this book, but her experiences as Arabella begin something of a sea change both in her attitude and outlook as she begins to reconcile her modern self with the younger woman's body in which she finds herself. Arabella had been seventeen and Nichola was twenty seven and yet the ten years which divide them in age are as nothing compared with the gulf between their lives.
When Nichola's stepfather begins to make unwelcome advances, she runs away but meets again King's man, Joscelin Attewood, and finds herself agreeing to be his wife in what they agree will be a marriage of convenience. Joscelin is a widower with a daughter and in Arabella he hopes to provide his child with a new mother and, of course, he will give his name to Arabella's illegitimate daughter. The marriage may have begun as a convenience but both Nichola and Joscelin soon begin to develop a deeper relationship although things are a little obscured by Michael Morellon still being on the scene. He's now a captain in Cromwell's army and this presents Nichola with some divided loyalties initially.
I'm not hugely familiar with England under the Stuarts or with the Civil War for that matter but Dinah Lampitt has obviously researched the period in some depth and manages to impart her knowledge so that the reader never feels as though they're being force fed historical information but simply absorb the detail which provides a wonderful sense of time and place along with the story. Although most of the action takes place in the seventeenth century, we do get occasional glimpses of what's happening to Nichola in the present day through Arabella's dreams.
Dinah Lampitt nowadays writes historical mysteries under the name of Deryn Lake but even back in 1995 when this book was published, she'd already established herself as an excellent writer who managed to combine actual history with the incredible and do so in a very credible way. From the moment Nichola enters this alien world of almost four centuries ago, I was totally absorbed in her life and how she dealt with each situation with which she's presented. She's definitely a realist but there's something of the romantic lurking somewhere inside her pragmatic soul and before long she's going to have to make the biggest decision of her existence.
Although the story revolves around Nichola's dilemma and she is by far the most important character in the book, the secondary characters are all as well drawn and believable and although Joscelin is a Royalist, Dinah Lampitt remains fairly impartial with regard to that long ago Civil War and is remarkably even handed with both her praise and condemnation of both sides. She also manages to introduce several real life historical figures into the novel giving it an added authenticity.
This is a wonderful story which draws the reader into a conflict which has been raging ever since. (Think 'posh boys' and 'plebs'.) This was a major turning point in English history when the right of the monarch to rule absolutely was not only questioned but ended with a beheading. Without making the book a boring or gloomy read, the author manages to convey the fears of the women left trying to keep their homes safe whilst their men folk fought bloody battles against their fellow countrymen. At the same time, the intertwined story of Nichola's life in a time other than her own, allowed Dinah Lampitt to give a more objective view of England during the worst kind of conflict any nation can face so we get to see the English Civil War and not just Cromwell with warts and all!
The book ends with an historical note which I found really interesting. It seems that King Charles decided to surrender to the Scottish parliament, who immediately demanded £1.8 million for his return, though they settled for £400,000!
To my mind this is a 5 star read from start to finish and I couldn't find anything to dislike about this book except for Joscelin's name. It's just not my idea of a manly man's name!
Although this book is now out of print, there are plenty of used copies available online from around 50p.