The second book in the John Shakespeare series, Revenger, is a terrific and taut addition to what’s fast becoming one of my favourite Elizabethan series.
While the first book was set in 1587, this one moves ahead five years in time to 1592. Sir Francis Walsingham has been dead two years, the Spanish Armada defeated in 1588 and the Earl of Leicester, the queen’s favourite, dead four years. Two groups of people now contest the reigns of power, headed by two men who loathe each other: the Earl of Essex on one side and Robert Cecil on the other. These men are ones that John Shakespeare, retired from spying and now a schoolmaster, hopes never to have to deal with again – or so he claims.
Summoned by Cecil to not only solve the mystery of a young woman from a missing colony in the New World who has suddenly appeared on English shores, as well as find papers the Earl of Essex has upon his person and intends to use to bribe the queen, and solve the death of two young lovers at a wedding, John, along with the loyal and able Boltfoot Cooper, is dragged back into intelligencing.
Forced to confront old enemies and make some new deadly ones, John is nothing if not persistent.
In the meantime, his marriage to Catholic Catherine is falling apart as he struggles with her Papist tendencies and the danger it poses for not just his beloved wife, but their whole family. How can he protect them when England needs him too?
And, watching and waiting in the wings to pounce, is the psychopathic Richard Topcliffe who would like nothing better than to slowly and tortuously kill both John and his beautiful wife.
But when John uncovers the extent of the plot that’s brewing and understands the players involved, he realises the queen is facing the biggest threat to her safety yet. Only, exactly who poses the biggest threat isn’t yet clear for there are those claiming to be working for her that seem to have their own interests at heart, interests that if curtailed pose great danger to not just the realm, but John and his family.
Once more, Clements captures the era authentically and with a storyteller’s flair. The plot is fast-paced, the writing wonderful and the characters believable. Sometimes compared to C.J. Sansom (my absolute favourite Tudor historical fiction writer – his books are brilliant) and the Shardlake series, I’m not convinced the unfavourable comparisons are fair or accurate. For a start, the Shardlake books are set during Henry’s reign, Shardlake is a lawyer and the entire tone and pace is very different to what Clement offers.
I enjoy both series, which though set a few decades apart, reflect the eras they explore with accuracy and beauty, demonstrating that from one generation to the next there were huge ideological and social changes affecting and defining England and its people.
I think both writers do their chosen material great justice and bring so much pleasure to readers.
Again, I finished Revenger and moved straight on to the next in the series, Prince. A terrific read.