Though the bold hero, beautiful heroine, and picaresque sidekick are somewhat standard for historical romance, Johnston has made hers more interesting than usual. Ralph Percy, thirty-six years old, is a seasoned veteran, the best swordsman in Virginia, and a man to be reckoned with. Johnston makes Percy’s first-person narrative believably masculine, with some fine repartee, and the relationship to his at first reluctant wife has more complexity than does the usual costume romance.
Jocelyn Leigh is perhaps more stereotypical—the proud, haughty beauty—but as her disdain turns to love, she too becomes more complex as well as more appealing. Her high-spirited courage is contagious.
The most complex characterization is that of Lord Carnal. A beautiful, arrogant minion of the king, he resembles those real favorites of King James, the Earl of Somerset and the Duke of Buckingham, but he becomes a fascinating study in damnation. Both his Italian doctor and the king seem to have a homosexual fascination with him, but his own passion for Jocelyn Leigh, carried to the point of an obsession, seems genuine, though utterly selfish, and his end is genuinely tragic. Though ruthless and unscrupulous, he has courage and is capable of gallantry.
There is a colorful cast of supporting characters, notably Jeremy Sparrow, former actor and crony of Ben Jonson, now an ordained minister but also an immensely strong fighting man; Diccon, the loyal retainer, who tries to kill his master in response to a blow given in anger; John Rolfe, still mourning his dead Pocahontas; and Nicolo, the treacherous Italian doctor, together with leading members of the Jamestown community, Indians, and pirates.