How would you feel – the you who believed you were the child of earthborn parents – if the stranger who rescued you from the sea told you to “pretend to be human…”?

What would you do if you were entirely alone and he promised to save you from the darkness that was, and is, Anstey – if you would only bind your life to his?

Would you trust him enough to share his mind and his bed? Forgive his anger? Risk your life to save his when you discover that the destructive alien power of your mind is far greater than his will ever be?

Fleeing from war in the Auriga Constellation, alien refugees travel through a rift in time and space to a secret location in planet Earth’s distant history. Exploiting the rush to escape the conflict, Anstey, the vicious leader of the exiles, forces those who accompany him to sign away their lives in work contracts that bind them and their children to him indefinitely. Those who try (and fail) to escape are imprisoned in a complex beneath the cliffs of 16th century Devon, used as slaves and wait for death to ease their misery.

It is here that Kat meets Thomas and their perilous adventure begins. One born on earth, one born on the far side of the galaxy, they are linked by the strange blue swirls that mark their skin and reveal their shared heritage.

If they want to survive they must join forces.

Will Kat’s strength be enough for both of them when Anstey strikes at Thomas?

Would Thomas willingly sacrifice his own life to save hers?

Find out in this gripping first book of a trilogy – a poignant and passionate story of love where speculative sci-fi meets Elizabethan England with catastrophic consequences.

The Review

What happens when you escape war and death only to find yourself trapped, under the control of a cruel and evil master? In Surviving Anstey, by Susan Hancock, a group of colonists escaping interstellar strife come to Elizabethan England, only to discover their leader Anstey has his own agenda, and freedom for his supporters is not part of it.  

While the premise suggests science fiction, the setting – Elizabethan England – and the development and use of psi abilities in one of the lead characters makes Surviving Anstey feel more like fantasy – plus there is a romance arc central to the story. In that way, the question of science fiction or fantasy reminds me of the same debate about Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books: the premise hung on space travel, and therefore science fiction, but a psychic link with dragons and the medieval society spoke to fantasy.

Kat (Kathryn Wrenn) is a young woman born to a life and heritage other than the one she is raised in; Thomas Alban owes a life of servitude to Anstey in exchange for escaping what awaited him at home. When he rescues Kat from certain death, they fall in love. Escaping the underground complex that Anstey has built on the Devon coast is their first priority, because Anstey wants Kat. 

This is a character-driven story, and for readers who want immediate and rapid action, this probably isn’t a book for you. That’s not to say action doesn’t happen: it’s just not the entire reason for the story. Characters have to learn to trust, to set boundaries, and they suffer consequences both physical and psychological. They’re not always, or all, strong. Regardless of their origin, the people who populate Surviving Anstey are very human.

The book alternates between Kat’s first-person narrative, and Thomas’s third, although in both cases we are aware of what they are thinking. Telepathic conversation is relayed in italics, and some readers may find the extent of this difficult; others won’t. 

Hancock has researched her ‘real’ world, that of Elizabethan Devon, thoroughly, and it rings true. So does her meticulously structured ‘artificial’ world, that which Anstey has created in the cliffs. The relationship between Anstey’s domain and the outside world reminded me a little of the changed world the hobbits found in Bree and the Shire on their return in LOTR: dark-cloaked enforcers of Anstey’s rules, but again, this is much darker. Hancock does not shy away from the existence and description of sexual exploitation and degradation of several kinds.

Many questions are asked in Surviving Anstey, ones that resonate with our 21st century world – or any, I suppose.  What are the limits of friendship?  What make people choose safety over freedom – or freedom over safety?  How do we cope when we can’t protect the ones we love?  There aren’t easy answers in this book: the world Hancock has envisioned is dark and cruel. Bad things happen to good people, graphically.  But what it does offer is a degree of hope. 

About the Reviewer

Marian L Thorpe is the author of the award-winning series Empire’s Legacy, set in a world reminiscent of Europe after the decline of Rome. Following two careers as a scientist and an educator, Marian returned to her first love and began writing seriously, with her first novel published in 2015. 


About Empire’s Daughter (Empire’s Legacy #1)

Lena’s world is about to change forever. Harried from north and south by two different enemies, both wanting this last remnant of a greater Empire’s land, and with invasion imminent, the military leaders see no choice but to ask the unthinkable: that women learn to fight.

In accepting the challenge, Lena is separated from her lover, who chooses banishment rather than break with generations of tradition. Promoted to leadership, drawn into the intrigues of power, Lena must make difficult choices, for herself, for her village, and for her country: a young woman at the heart of the violence and diplomacy that will begin her epic journey to save her land.