Review - The Tenth Gift by Jane Johnson

Note: This novel is known as Crossed Bones (UK) Tenth Gift (USA)

tenth giftcrossed bones Synopsis

In an expensive London restaurant Julia Lovat receives a gift that will change her life. It appears to be a book of exquisite 17th-century embroidery patterns but on closer examination Julia finds it also contains faint diary entries. In these, Cat Tregenna, an embroideress, tells how she and others were stolen out of a Cornish church in 1625 by Muslim pirates and taken on a brutal voyage to Morocco to be auctioned off as slaves.
Captivated by this dramatic discovery, Julia sets off to North Africa to determine the authenticity of the book and to uncover more of Cat's story. There, in the company of a charismatic Moroccan guide, amid the sultry heat, the spice markets, and exotic ruins, Julia discovers buried secrets. And in Morocco - just as Cat did before her - she loses her heart.
Almost 400 years apart, the stories of the two women converge in an extraordinary and haunting manner that will make readers wonder - is history fated to repeat itself?


Crossed Bones is told from the perspectives of both Julia and Cat. Separated by hundreds of years these two narratives intertwine to tell an exciting story. Crossed Bones tells these two stories in alternating sections, but they mesh together in a way that makes the plot move at a good pace and with only the necessary details revealed. Pirates, embroidery, Moroccan slave trade and adultery – this story has plenty to keep you interested.

The characters, Julia and Cat, left me feeling disappointed however, while I was very captivated by their experiences, the characters themselves were quite unappealing to me. It would be hard to explain my particular dislikes of Julia and Cat without giving away spoilers, but with Cat it has to do with her actions and how she rationalized (or didn’t) her choices. With Julia, I just didn’t like her, she came across as selfish and petty. I did not find myself empathizing with either of the main characters.

Along with characters I could not relate to, the dialogue also felt somehow stunted. I did not like the flow of dialogue between characters, and some of it felt like it would not translate well to actual speech. Plot and descriptions found in Crossed Bones however was very strong. Although the plots were set in different times and places they both came together to create a fully functioning story. Descriptions were also especially strong in this book, the author lays out a vivid look at the contrasting landscapes of Britain and Morocco.

Overall a good story, but not one that I will go back to anytime soon, I will however take a look at other works by this author as I did enjoy the key points of the novel. The following passage taken from Chapter One of Crossed Bones, illustrates an aspect of the novel that I enjoyed greatly – the inter-connectedness of people and things throughout time.

‘There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they have never happened before, like larks that have been singing the same five notes for thousands of years.'

About The Author

Jane Johnson is from Cornwall and has worked in the book industry for 20 years, as a bookseller, publisher and writer.

She was responsible for publishing the works of JRR Tolkien during the 1980s and 1990s and worked on Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, spending many months in New Zealand with cast and crew. Under the pseudonym of Jude Fisher she wrote three bestselling Visual Companions to the films. She has also written several books for children.

In 2005 she was in Morocco researching the story of a distant family member who was abducted from a Cornish church in 1625 by Barbary pirates and sold into slavery in North Africa (which formed the basis for Crossed Bones / The Tenth Gift), when a near-fatal climbing incident caused her to rethink her future.

She returned home, gave up her office job in London, sold her flat and shipped the contents to Morocco. In October she married her own 'Berber pirate' and now they split their time between Cornwall and a village in the Anti-Atlas Mountains.

Author Website

Published by Crown

© 2008-2010 Joanne Mosher of The Book Zombie. All rights reserved.


Lenore said...

I LOVE that quote you pulled from chapter 1.

Michele said...

Very nice review. This one has been on my wishlist and it will be interesting when I finally get around to it, since it sounds as if the issues that bothered you about it would probably be my bug-a-boos, as well.

Nicely written!

Book Zombie said...

lenore - isn't that quote gorgeous!

michele - I really wanted to like this book, and I did love the story but arrghh I hate it when I don't connect with the characters.