The Heretic’s Mark by S.W.Perry – Elizabethan London and escape to Europe

The Heretic’s Mark by S.W. Perry

On one level this is an adventure in Elizabethan London which extends to a trip across Europe as the protagonists try to find safety. On another level it is about the danger faced by those to seek knowledge, to try to find out more than expected. This is the fourth “Jackdaw” novel, featuring Nicolas Shelby and Bianca, and the memorable Rose with her admirer Ned. As has been the case before in this brilliant series, shifting political allegiances and religious differences means that simply living can be dangerous, especially for unorthodox physicians and healers. This novel could well be read without reading the previous three, as each of the characters are cleverly introduced and sufficiently hints of their backstories are given. The colours, smells and sights of the time are brilliantly evoked as always, as Nicholas and Bianca leave Britain for various European centres via an arduous, dangerous route with a young woman who challenges them both in different ways. Rose and Ned are left in more familiar surroundings, but that does not mean that they feel safer. As always the plot is complicated as the influence of Robert Cecil extends over their lives, but in this novel even his power is set against forces that occupy minds in places where even Queen Elizabeth’s writ does not run.

 The level of research in this book is deeply impressive, yet it never gets in the way of the narrative as it draws the reader in. The dialogue is life like for twenty first century readers, especially between a married couple where there are still tricky areas to negotiate. As with the previous novels in this series I found it nearly impossible to put down once the adventures truly get underway, and there are passages which made me chuckle even when though the danger to the characters is no less grippingly portrayed. I really enjoyed this book, and was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review another novel in the Jackdaw Mysteries.  

The novel begins with a somewhat difficult Prologue as an elderly physician is executed for political reasons, and the book follows with a first section “Falling from Heaven” as Nicholas is taken up by mysterious officials with a similar agenda in the summer of 1594. Bianca Merton meanwhile is busily making up one of her remedies for a local woman, one of her potions that help to maintain her legend as the mysterious healer from a foreign place, with a quiet Catholic faith that is definitely unfashionable if not dangerous in Elizabeth’s London. When Rose witnesses Nicholas’ progress with those who accompany him, she knows that he needs help. An escape from London does not mean a peaceful journey for  Nicholas and Bianca, as they fear that agents of the Crown are in pursuit, and that murder seems to dog their progress. A devout young woman is anything but quiet in any company, and visions of a terrifying future haunt the atmosphere of even familiar places.

This book is a vivid adventure that moves along with dangerous mysteries at its centre, and the very human reactions to the stress surrounding so many characters. Despite that there is humour and love, loyalty and initiative, strength and courage. Each character is forced to consider just how far they will go for another person, yet there is also a background of places and people that ground the decisions in real life. It is essentially entertaining, memorable and a brilliant example of lively historical fiction.     

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! 

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.