book-reviews

A Stain in the Blood: The Remarkable Voyage of Sir Kenelm Digby

by Joe Moshenska

Rating: ★★★

A popular history character study, focused on the somewhat adventurous character of Kenelm Digby. Though his father conspired to kill King James in the Gunpowder Plot, Digby, a committed Catholic, would become a trusted friend to the ostensibly Anglican King Charles. Like his father, Kenelm seems to have been an inspirational figure, who took his personal beliefs seriously. Certainly a noteworthy figure, with some complexity to his life-story, so very suitable for a historic biography.

The book seems somewhat incomplete, however. Kenelm's early life and adventures in Spain are given a great deal of detail and analysis, which inclined me towards enjoying the book, but the story of the voyage itself seems oddly shortened and lacking in reflection. Even more awkward was the time-slip between the voyages and the end of the narrative as the book presented it -- for some reason, Digby's life from after about 1633 (when his wife Venetia died), is cut almost entirely from the book, despite being some of the most active and politically interesting events of his lifetime.

The book title does seem to try and position itself as being about Digby's voyages rather than the man's whole life, but the text is very awkward if that was the intent. I can only speculate that perhaps the author intended to do a full biography, but fell foul of a publisher's deadline and had to hastily reframe the completed work. What remains is certainly an interesting fragment, but still only a fragment.