The Serpent’s Mark by S.W.Perry – Treason and more in Elizabethan London – with so much to offer

In Elizabethan times, treason was easy to commit, or at least be accused of with little provocation. In this second book featuring Nicholas Shelby, a physician with a past, the suspicion of Catholics and their potential as assassins is still rife. Bianca Merton, apothecary and tavern owner, is a woman with a talent for dangerous situations, already condemned by some as a sorceress and more. Perry takes these two characters and more who will be familiar to Perry’s first book, “The Angel’s Mark”  and gives them new situations to deal with both in the claustrophobia of London and the estates of the rich. He also includes some real characters of the time, such as the charismatic and notorious Kit Marlowe. The combination of brilliantly drawn characters and a terrifically described setting in the streets of London make for a read that is fascinating in detail and touches on some huge subjects. The research that is behind this novel is obviously immense, as Perry manages to get into the speech, the obsessions and the sheer variety of people who would have lived in this part of London at this dynamic time. Well paced, with a keen sense of the dangers faced by every character, as well as the emotions felt, this is a vastly enjoyable book which is very difficult to put down. I was extremely pleased to be given the opportunity to read and review this book.

 

The book opens with Nicholas and his father, at last revealing the nature of the tragedy which has overwhelmed him. In the process Yeoman Shelby talks about he changes in religious practice that had affected the country during the previous reigns, and the effects that uncertainty has had on everyone. Meanwhile in London Bianca is pleased to have attained the opportunity to pass on her healing knowledge, working with Ned and Rose to run the Jackdaw, determined to attract more patrons. She is keen to visit a ship that has just arrived which has come from her home city of Venice, and pleased to meet a relative who turns out to be a very attractive character. She soon realises that Bruno is involved in more than just trading in rice, and fears for the implications. When Nicholas returns to the tavern she greets him with mixed emotions, as despite his attraction for her, she knows that he is still suffering. He has been asked to look into the case of the son of an old comrade in arms, who is shown to be an imaginative boy who is searching for help. Moreover, the council of physicians has demanded his presence at a hearing that could block his hard won career. He is conflicted by memories as he returns to London, and is painfully aware that his life needs to be reordered. He is summoned to meet an old adversary, and as a result he must undertake a journey to discover what a sinister character is really working towards. Bianca plunges into danger out of concern for Bruno, and has to take quick action to survive.

 

This is a novel which combines so many elements, and manages to reveal the humanity of individuals as well as convey a sense of the forces which are affecting everyone. I found the book full of small incidents and fascinating detail, impressive research into real people and consistent characters. Perry manages to shift from humourous dialogue to frightening threats, watchfulness to huge issues. I can heartily recommend this book to all fans of historical fiction as it is essentially easy to read, well written and totally involving. This is Tudor Britain with a realistic spin, and achieves so much in building a picture of real people in a genuinely fascinating settling.