It’s a bit gory…but very good!

Well, there’s still a tiny bit of snow here, lots of ice, but it may even get a bit warmer over the next few days! Joy! Which is typical as I have to do two bits of writing in the next two days for my writing group and the church magazine. So, no sunbathing for me, then (oh the irony, the satire…) Reading Steven Fry has a strange effect on me, obviously. One of three autobiographies on my to be read list/ or finished is The Fry Chronicles. I have my reasons for reading this, so watch this space.

A book that I have finished is Martyr by Rory Clements.


This book is what prompts the headline above. It’s a gory book, not for those of a nervous disposition, but it is very good. The front of my copy bears the legend “Perfect for fans of C.J. Sansom” and, gentle (or not so gentle) reader, it is. This book, the first in a series, is set in the later period than that favoured by Sansom, being the reign of Elizabeth I, and features one John Shakespeare. Yes, he does have a famous brother, which is an excellent thing in this story. Fans of the original “Elizabeth” film starring Cate Blanchett will be on familiar territory here in terms of tone, even if the monarch herself does not make an appearance as a character, merely as a threat. This book does share the film’s blood thirsy attitude to torture and instant death in the name of religion and persecution, and is only saved by the very good writing.

As in Sansom’s Revelations there are a few deaths. The description of the main protagonist’s character, however, is so brilliant that we feel their impact on him, and equally the danger that he, and the woman he comes to love, are in. This is not a straightforward narrative with a minimal number of characters; some real people (like Drake) appear at their swashbuckling height, while the poorer members of society sometimes also flourish. The really bad man, Topcliffe, is immensely powerful, and seemingly inescapable, and eventually I’ll try and track down whether he really was a powerful figure in the persecution of Catholics. Walsingham, chief protector of the Queen in this portion of her reign, appears as a very human character, and certainly not as omnipresent as in other versions of Elizabeth’s court.

This book is a sort of historical murder mystery, but not in the sense of whodunnit as much as what will happen next. While we know that historically Drake survives to annoy the Spanish, for the duration of this book we are not certain of that outcome. There is real romance, a real sense of danger and a real excitement in this book that  kept me reading, if only to discover who survives. The only thing that I did dislike about this book is the sad attitude to the changeling baby. This is not ponderous history; it is fast moving, gripping and well written. Read it if you like medieval history in all its gore and reality, and if you like well drawn characters.  And if you have read it already, well, please comment and let me know what you thought…