Return Home: Stranger in a Familiar Land


Return Home: Stranger in a Familiar Land

This week’s romance trope is Return Home. Kicking things off is Alison Stuart, who asks: Can you ever really go home?

A stench of animal and human waste and decomposing vegetable matter rose from the Thames and exuded in waves from the dark, narrow streets that led down to the dock. Standing at the rail of the ship, his hands gripping the weathered wood so hard that the knuckles showed white, Daniel breathed in the fetid London air as if it were the finest perfume he had ever smelled.

He had come home.

From Exile’s Return, by Alison Stuart

My husband maintains that in any given fictional story there are only two plots—‘stranger comes to town’ or ‘stranger goes on a journey’. The ‘return home’ trope is a subset of ‘stranger comes to town’, only in this case the stranger returns to a familiar world but finds they no longer fit in either because they have changed or their familiar world is no longer familiar.

It is a trope as old as literature itself. Think of Homer’s Odyssey—Odysseus returning to Ithaca after an absence of 20 years to find his home invaded by strangers, a son he no longer recognises and a wife who is on the point of giving him up for dead. Only his old, blind dog recognises him. In real life it is a common experience of soldiers returning after war, and you will see the trope used time and again in modern films such as Apocalypse Now or the Hurt Locker. Away from the military, think of My Fair Lady when Eliza decides to leave Henry Higgins and return to her old life.


I did not begin writing Exile’s Return with the conscious thought that the story muddling around in my head conformed to any sort of trope—that’s not how I write. Only as I signed it off did it occur to me that it is a classic ‘return home’ story.

The reader first meets the hero of Exile’s Return in the first book of the series, By the Sword. Daniel Lovell is eighteen. He is young, angry, and, like any young man, perceives his much older brother, Kit, as having had all the fun. The English Civil War should have ended with the death of Charles I in 1649 but in 1651 his son makes one last bid to regain the throne and this is Daniel’s chance for honour and glory and to avenge the death of his father on the battlefield of Worcester. Despite Kit’s injunction against Daniel following him, the boy disobeys him.

‘This may be my last chance,’ the boy said eagerly.

sword‘Your last chance for what?’ Giles asked. ‘Getting yourself killed?’

‘Everyone else has had their chance. I’ve always missed out on the fun. I was too young,’ the boy said in a petulant tone as if he had been denied an outing…

‘We’ll fight for the King and for glory and honour,’ he continued, oblivious to the cynical silence of his audience.

Jonathan considered the boy for a moment, seeing himself in the youthful idealism, but wanting desperately to prevent the futile loss of another life.

‘Daniel, war has nothing to do with glory and honour,’ he said and leaned forward, fixing the boy with a hard gaze. ‘Have you ever smelt the stench of death? Have you ever seen a man with his guts hanging out and still living or a man with his face shot away? Have you watched a friend die of gangrene?’

The inevitable happens, the King’s forces are defeated and Daniel finds himself alone, wounded and a prisoner. He doesn’t know if his brother is alive or dead or what his fate will be.

Exile’s Return opens in the last months of 1659. Oliver Cromwell is dead and there is a glimmering of hope of a restoration of the monarchy.

No longer the callow youth who dreamed of glory and honour, Daniel Lovell steps off a boat onto English soil for the first time in eight years. Scarred physically and emotionally, all his frustration has been channelled into one cause—to kill the man he believes responsible for the woes of the Lovell family.

He has been told his beloved brother Kit is dead. He doesn’t know if his mother and sister are still alive or living in the ruins of the old family home. Nothing is as it should be. He is quite literally a stranger in a familiar land. The only thing grounding him is his quest for revenge.

This is where the trope can take you in two different directions…either the stranger must come to terms with the changes in his world or he must move on.

As to how Daniel makes sense of this now unfamiliar world, where nothing is quite as it should be, and reconciles himself to his past, is not for me to say…I am afraid you have to read the book to find that out!


The breath-taking conclusion to Alison Stuart’s English Civil War trilogy introduces a heroine with nothing left to lose and a hero with everything to gain…

To mark the end of the Guardians of the Crown series, you can enter a contest to win some Guardians of the Crown swag. To enter just click HERE.


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