Ms StJohn gives us a beautifully composed story covering a decade or more of time in the second half of the 17th century. From the gruesome beginning when some of our protagonists witness the execution of Charles I to the isolated prison on Sandown where the story more or less ends, this is a narrative told through three female voices, those of the cousins Nan and Luce and of Frances, married to Luce’s brother, Sir Allen Apsley.
Where Nan Wilmot is a commanding soprano—what other voice to give this spymistress extraordinaire who loves her dashing royalist husband so passionately, her sons so fervently, her family so wholly—Luce is a somewhat more strident alto. For those familiar with Ms St John’s previous books, Luce is no new acquaintance. Intelligent and devout, Luce is first of all a lady of convictions, a woman who believes in the republic, in a bright new world for all now that the corrupted monarchy has been toppled. And then there is Frances, a softer voice that weaves round the other two and somehow brings it all together.
Frances, just like Nan, works for the royalist cause. Luce, on the other hand, has had a hand in the king’s execution, convincing her husband John Hutchinson that there is no choice: for the republic to flourish, the king must die. And so John signs the execution order that leads to the death of a king on an icy January day.
Reasonably, Nan and Frances should see Luce as their enemy, but somehow these women manage to remember that no matter who rules, no matter what turmoil one lives through, family is always family. Always. And so it is Luce and her husband John Hutchinson who save Frances’ husband Allen after the battle of Worcester in 1651. It is Luce and John who give sanctuary to a badly wounded Henry Wilmot in 1655. And it is Nan and Frances who, several years later, do everything they can to save John Hutchinson from the restored king’s vengeance
Ms St John weaves a gripping story. She drags the reader along to the impoverished exiled court in Paris, she describes the political quagmire that plagues England, the atrocities in Ireland, the excesses of the Parliamentarian government headed by an Oliver Cromwell that in Ms St John’s depiction has nothing good or decent in him. This is consistent with the personal views of the people involved—not even Luce finds anything likeable in Oliver Cromwell. Famous people of the time such as Sir Edward Hyde, Henry Wilmot, the Duke of Buckingham (ugh!), the exiled Charles Stuart himself, the astoundingly beautiful and astutely manipulative Barbara Villiers, come alive in this excellently wrought story.
Vivid descriptions evoke smells and sounds, starlit skies and endless summer evenings. The historical setting is brought to vibrant life as are the tragedies of the people caught in the sundering of a nation, of a time when brother stood against brother on the battlefield, when one false step could send you hurtling to ruin and painful death. Add to this the beautiful and intimate scenes between man and wife, be it Nan and her beloved Henry on one of his undercover visits to England, Luce and John at their home in Owthorpe or Frances and her Allen standing under the wide, wide skies of the Fens and you have a novel that somehow manages to cover all aspects of the human condition. Most of all though, this is a story about love and loyalty, about the ties of family that cannot be denied—not even in times of bloody civil war.
- Paperback: 386 pages
- Publisher: R. R. Bowker (13 November 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0999394460
- ISBN-13: 978-0999394465
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.4 x 22.9 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 621 g
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