A European man and woman in Peru from The Chronicles of Guaman Poma c1600-1615

The main characters in Mistress of the Sea are fictional. Ellyn Cooksley and Will Doonan are quite ordinary people thrown into extraordinary events.

Ellyn Cooksley is a secret player in one of the most spectacular and daring raids in the history of great English escapades, when Francis Drake attacks the supply of treasure flowing from the Americas to Spain. Will Doonan is the man who leads her into adventure as he pursues his determination to avenge the loss of his brother.

But behind Drake’s triumph lies a grim reality of successive defeats, death and misery; Ellyn and Will must be strong – they have much to endure.

The baggage that shapes identity

Both Ellyn and Will have lost a close brother and the feature of a missing brother is key to understanding their motives.

Will’s brother, Kit, is a prisoner of the Spanish, and Will does not know whether he is alive or dead. The ventures Will embarks upon with Drake are partly undertaken in the wild hope of finding his brother and at the very least avenging his loss.

Conversely, Ellyn’s brother, Thom, died as a child, and Ellyn feels the burden of his absence as an expectation placed upon her to achieve as much as he would have done in her father’s eyes, though the conventions that constrain her as a woman mean that she is almost inevitably condemned to falling short. When she has an opportunity to escape and quite literally step into her brother’s shoes, she takes it, partly in a bid for release from stultifying boredom, but mainly to prove her own worth.

Will Ellyn succeed in showing that she can be as useful as a man? Does Will find Kit, or have his vengeance? Through the story we find out…