I finished Snare of Serpents recently. I like Victoria Holt. Her books are a bit old-fashioned by today’s standards, but I like the historical settings, and her female characters are strong. She lived and wrote during a time when women’s purpose in life was to get married and not much else, and love wasn’t a factor. Many marriages were arranged, and often the couple didn’t know each other well at all. There is nothing wrong with being married of course, but nobody’s value should be placed on whether they are married or not, and marriage shouldn’t be a means to an end. I think she tries to communicate that in her writing. Many of the women in her books are unconventional and go against what society expects.
In Snare of Serpents, the main character, Davina, deals with a number of challenges, including experiencing the loss of her governness Lilias, with whom she has a close relationship, after a scandal. Additionally, Davina’s mother passes away, and her father remarries Davina’s new governness, Zillah Grey, and Davina falls in love with a young man her father doesn’t approve of. Perhaps worst of all (as if the other issues aren’t enough), when Davina’s father dies suddenly, she is accused of his murder. Davina moves from her home in Scotland to South Africa with Lilias after the trial to get away from the stigma and start a new life. Her experiences make for a good story.
The historical setting is interesting. The story takes place in the late 1800s during the conflict in South Africa between the English colonists and the Boers (now referred to as Afrikaners) who are South Africans of Dutch, German or Huguenot descent. A number of issues contribute to the conflict; one of those issues is which group has control of the diamond and gold mining industry. The atmosphere while Davina and Lilias are in South Africa is tense, and they survive a siege.
The story is told mostly from Davina’s and Lilias’ point of view, and I do like their dialogue and their relationship but I’d have liked more input from some of the other characters. Roger Lestrange is clearly evil and has an agenda, but it’s Davina and Lilias who are saying so. I think the “show and not tell” idea applies here. I initially wasn’t sure what to think of Zillah. It’s not clear at first whether she’s a golddigger or not. It becomes obvious later that although she is flawed, Zillah cares about Davina, and she does attempt to make things right.
Things turn out well. Davina and Lilias both end up with husbands they love and have good lives. As I’ve pointed out, however, while there is nothing wrong with being with the right person, being married doesn’t necessarily guarantee happiness and shouldn’t be someone’s whole purpose in life. Snare of Serpents is overall an enjoyable book.