I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got this novel (disclosure I won it in a competition) and the author has been particularly nice about my own work, so I was terrified I wouldn’t enjoy it. I am pleased, and relieved, to say that I enjoyed it very, very, much.
The story opens with Elspet Leviston in London. Elspet’s father Nathanial is a lace maker and Elspet in line to inherit the business, but the arrival of her cousin Zachary Deane, soon puts pay to those plans - her father favouring her cousin in the inheritance of Leviston Lace. a not uncommon situation at a time when womens leegal rights to property were often subsumed to male relatives.
Zachary is, however, as charming as he is dastardly, and an excellent swordsman with a shady past. You do find yourself rooting for him, in spite of his many faults. That is one of the real joys of this book: the characters are fully formed, and equally flawed and appealing.
Zachary leaves for the continent on the Grand Tour, but Nathaniel’s untimely death forces Elspet to go after him to reclaim her inheritance.
The quest takes her to Spain - at the height of its Golden Age - during the Morisco persecution and expulsion. There are some frightening parallels with today’s politics, and the treatment of the Morisco’s really resonated as I read. The two become caught up in the grand sweep of historical events as well as their own private feud.
I do think this suffers from being billed as Women’s Fiction (part of the reason for my initial trepidation) when really it is just damn fine Historical Fiction. The two intertwined protagonists are fundamentally real for the period, and the story is packed full of action and clever plotting which kept me gripped to the end. I’ve spent ages myself researching Seventeenth Century fencing techniques and styles, so know firsthand the level of work that has gone into this.
All in all I would highly recommend this one. It taps a period and setting that is rarely used, but wonderfully drawn, with beautiful prose, and a gripping plot.