I’ve been dreaming of Greece lately. The deep azure blue of the Aegean, the bleached white stone and the fathomless blue sky are still as clear in my mind as when I visited Rhodes on my honeymoon. I recall avenues of lemon trees, hot stones beneath my feet, balconies with colourful awnings, and the timelessness of the acropolis at Lindos.
These memories rush back to me with Amy Maroney’s writing. In her latest novel, Sea of Shadows, takes us back in time to 15th century Rhodes. The island has a rich history, having changed hands multiple times during the last century and positioned as it is in the crossroads of major trade routes.
In this guest post, Amy Maroney shares with us some of the history that inspired Sea of Shadows. It’s a wonderful story that has it all–adventure, delicious historical detail, a dashing Scottish privateer, and a stirring romance. And more importantly, Sea of Shadows has captured beautifully the spirit of Rhodes.
Rhodes in the era of the Hospitallers, by Amy Maroney
Sea of Shadows, my new romantic historical suspense novel, takes readers on a journey through the beauty and danger of Renaissance-era Greece. It stars an unlikely duo. Anica Foscolo, a gifted painter, is the daughter of a Venetian artist and a Greek woman; Drummond Fordun is a fierce Scotsman renowned for his exploits as a privateer serving the Knights Hospitaller of St. John. When her family’s honor is threatened, Anica—who is betrothed to a wealthy merchant—reluctantly turns to Drummond for help. There’s just one problem: she never planned to fall in love with her accomplice.
Like Island of Gold, its predecessor in the Sea and Stone Chronicles, Sea of Shadows explores the Mediterranean during a time of adventure, war, prosperity, and risk. Anica and Drummond’s drama plays out during the two-century period beginning in 1310 when the Knights Hospitaller of the Order of St. John ruled the island of Rhodes.
During the reign of the knights, the population of Rhodes quadrupled from 2000 to 8000 inhabitants, a quarter of whom were attached to the Order of St. John. With its knights, mercenaries, and formidable navy (captained mainly by foreign privateers), the Order managed to keep the Ottoman empire at bay until 1522, when Sultan Mehmed II captured the island and the Hospitallers fled to Malta.
During a three-week visit to Rhodes a decade ago, this astonishing history made such an impression on me that I never stopped thinking about what life might have been like for Rhodians under the rule of the Hospitallers. All of the residents of Rhodes and the surrounding Greek islands were subjugated by the knights. These men were their masters–but also their protectors. Who benefited from this arrangement? Who suffered? What was it like for women in their world? Ultimately, I decided to write the Sea and Stone Chronicles in an attempt to explore these questions.
The medieval walls surrounding Rhodes Town–the largest community on Rhodes and a vital port for thousands of years—are a testament to the enduring legacy of the knights. But they also represent a dark side of the Order’s history. When I dug into the past, I discovered the knights gave carte blanche to their privateers to board enemy ships, seize their goods, and take crews and passengers captive. Many of these captives were sold at the bustling slave market of Rhodes Town, and the Order used slave labor (primarily Muslims) to construct the massive stone walls and forts that defended their territory. Household slaves within Rhodes Town, on the other hand, tended to be Greek or of Eastern European descent.
In addition to slavery, prostitution was a booming business in Rhodian society. As a thriving port town, Rhodes Town was known for brothels that catered to sailors and other seafaring men. It was also a magnet for merchants. Valuable goods—spices, silks, timber, furs—poured into the harbor from all over Europe, Asia, and Africa. Merchants of varied backgrounds set up shop in Rhodes Town to take advantage of the trade opportunities. Artisans and artists—including painters trained in Italy—found patrons amongst this thriving middle class and the knights themselves. The knights allowed Greeks to continue worshipping at Greek Orthodox churches, but they also built churches of their own and installed a Catholic archbishop in Rhodes Town. Knights and locals lived side by side in a neighborhood called the Collachium that was just down the hill from the palace where the Grand Master of the Knights lived and ruled.
Despite the fact that they imposed two centuries of military occupation on the residents of Rhodes, no major uprisings against the knights were recorded during their rule. Though the knights and their “Latin” counterparts from Western Europe occupied the top rung of the social ladder, some Greeks prospered during this era. There were many mixed marriages between Greeks and Latins, encouraging the adoption of new languages and different cultural traditions within households. Many of the knights learned Greek or relied on Greeks to help them communicate with both the Ottoman Turks and the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt (the Order’s other enemy).
With this historical background in mind, I developed the character of painter Anica. Like most women artists of her day, Anica works in obscurity; her paintings are credited to her Venetian artist father. Her Greek mother hails from one of the “First Families”—descendants of the men who helped the Order thrive in its early days on the island. Anica is multilingual and moves easily between the Latin and Greek worlds, though she’s keenly aware that Greeks are seen as subservient to the knights.
I based Drummond, the Scots-born privateer, on a real Scotsman who worked as a servant of the knights in Rhodes for many years and returned home with a lucrative pension from the Order. Before signing on as a freelancer for the knights, Drummond gains sailing skills and battle savvy during years as a spice trader based in Genoa. Genoa was a major ally for the Knights Hospitaller; many of the merchants and privateers who served as agents of the order were Genoese. Venice and Genoa were bitter enemies in those days, so the mighty Venetian navy and the Knights Hospitaller were often at war in the seas around Rhodes.
All of this added color and tension to the world I built for Anica and Drummond. Divided loyalties, family honor, obligations to the knights, personal ambitions—their lives are complicated enough as it is, and then love enters the mix! With Sea of Shadows, as with all the books in the Sea and Stone Chronicles, my goal is to take readers on an exhilarating ride through a vibrant but little-known chapter of history.
About Sea of Shadows
1459. A gifted woman artist. A ruthless Scottish privateer. And an audacious plan that throws them together—with dangerous consequences.
No one on the Greek island of Rhodes suspects Anica is responsible for her Venetian father’s exquisite portraits, least of all her wealthy fiancé. But her father’s vision is failing, and with every passing day it’s more difficult to conceal the truth.
When their secret is discovered by a powerful knight of the Order of St. John, Anica must act quickly to salvage her father’s honor and her own future. Desperate, she enlists the help of a fierce Scottish privateer named Drummond. Together, they craft a daring plan to restore her father’s sight.
There’s only one problem—she never imagined falling in love with her accomplice.
Before their plan can unfold, a shocking scandal involving the knights puts Anica’s entire family at risk. Her only hope is to turn to Drummond once again, defying her parents, her betrothed, even the Grand Master of the Knights himself. But can she survive the consequences?
With this captivating tale of passion, courage, and loyalty, Amy Maroney brings a lost, dazzling world to vivid life.
Sea of Shadows is Book 2 in a series of stand-alone historical novels packed with adventure and romance.
Sea of Shadows is available through Amazon and free on Kindle Unlimited.
Amy Maroney studied English Literature at Boston University and worked for many years as a writer and editor of nonfiction. She lives in Oregon, U.S.A. with her family. When she’s not diving down research rabbit holes, she enjoys hiking, dancing, traveling, and reading. Amy is the author of The Miramonde Series, an award-winning historical fiction trilogy about a Renaissance-era female artist and the modern-day scholar on her trail. Her new historical suspense/romance series, Sea and Stone Chronicles, is set in medieval Rhodes and Cyprus.
For more information about her work, visit Amy’s Website or connect with her on social media by clicking on any of the icons below.