The Saracen’s Mark by S. W. Perry – Dangerous times in Elizabethan London and beyond

 

This is the third book featuring Nicholas Shelby, Bianca Merton and Elizabethan London, which is basically a third character. Nicholas is an unconventional physician who is frequently regarded as suspect because of his refusal to accept standard medical practices of the time. Bianca is from Padua, and has a lot of experience in herbal and other remedies, as well as a certain ambiguity of her faith. The novel begins with events in Bankside, a notorious part of London, popularly considered to be the home of thieves and other dubious characters. This is a really well set up context, full of details and local colour which reveals a huge amount of research which is beautifully understated. The dialogue is lively and realistic, with small surprises and revelations. There is a little interdependent community in this book, and there are many references to previous events, but this book can definitely be read as a standalone novel. In this book the range of Nicholas’ travels exceed those of the previous two novels in the series, as he feels obliged to travel to Marrakech. Neither Nicholas or Bianca find life easy, as challenges crop up for them in many ways. I found this a really enjoyable read, and I am pleased to be able to review it.

 

The novel begins with Nicholas being summoned in the middle of the night to attend Sir Robert Cecil, son of Queen Elizabeth’s chief adviser. He has been at Sir Robert’s service for a few years, always on the edge of danger from the machinations of the cunning spymaster. Initially he only wants to consult Nicholas as a physician, but it soon becomes obvious that he is interested in something more complex. When a celebration ends with a young man going missing, both Nicholas and Bianca are deeply worried; there are all sorts of dangers to a man of foreign background. A terrible discovery both frightens and intrigues Nicholas, and soon he finds that he is in contact with the rather demanding Cecil once more. As he feels forced to leave the country on a mission he does not fully understand, both he and Bianca feel that they have left much unsaid. Meanwhile, Bianca has to deal with a terrifying plague that threatens everything she has built up over the past few years. In addition, it seems that a rich and influential man has several designs upon Bianca that go beyond physical attraction.

 

 This is a fascinating book which has its brutal moments, and there are moments of high drama and risk. It has much to say about the religious differences which separated people in London and internationally. The other big issues of the time, such as slavery and medical developments play their part in this novel.  The writing is so good that vivid sounds, smells and more are conveyed. The female characters play a strong and independent role in this novel. I found it very exciting and enthralling, a real page turner. I really enjoyed this book, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys lively historical fiction, with more than a hint of suspense.    

 

I really enjoyed this book; historical fiction is a favourite of mine and this is particularly good at featuring a brave and resourceful woman or two. It is set in a popular historical period but takes a very different view, with a subversive doctor and a suspect tavern keeper. It is a very different read from some of the others reviewed here! 


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