The third book in the thrilling Spymaster Chronicles series, The Tudor Vendetta, has, so far, been the one I’ve most enjoyed and that’s saying something because the other two were terrific as well.
Opening when Elizabeth takes the throne in 1558, after her Catholic half-sister, “Bloody Mary” has died, it sees Brendan Prescott, our bastard Tudor and spy, summoned home to England.
No longer an ingénue in this game of thrones, Brendan has been trained by none other than Francis Walsingham, the man who would later rise to become Elizabeth’s secretary (but, at this stage of the novel functions more like a shady Q or rival agent from the Bond movies/novels – and that’s a good thing!).
Arriving back in England, Brendan not only has to try and find the perpetrator behind another ghastly plot against the queen, but also face his own demons and the mess he left his personal life in when he was forced to flee England at the end of the last novel.
Clearing up others’ strife is Brendan’s strong suite, not his own and, since he is no longer master of his own destiny, it’s difficult for him to reconcile with his beloved, Kate, so misunderstanding and mis-steps abound. When Elizabeth’s favourite lady-in-waiting, Lady Parry goes missing, Brendan is asked – no, ordered (like he has a choice!) – to find her.
Sent to a desolate, fog-bound mansion in the north of the country, armed with his own wits as well as a series of half-truths from his employer, and the deadly enmity of Sir Robert Dudley, Brendan tries hard to learn Lady Parry’s fate. Once again, however, as the plot thickens and intrigues deepen, Brendan finds not only his own life in jeopardy, but also that of the woman he has vowed he would die to protect.
Only this time, it looks as if Brendan’s vow is about to be seriously tested for it’s clear there’s a vendetta not only against him, but against Her Majesty as well.
Steeped in history, bringing the characters and era to wonderful life, Gortner has written a page-turner that’s part Gothic-mystery, part spy novel and romance as well as a race against time narrative that positively flies. I love the way Gortner weaves his fiction through known fact and takes advantage of gaps and omissions in historical sources and well-known figures’ lives to be inventive and create a superb read. An example is the way he manipulates Francis’ Walsingham’s story. Though Walsingham did return from self-imposed exile to England when Elizabeth was back on the throne, biographers don’t believe he was part of any “spy network” until much later. Certainly, he didn’t emerge has “head” of one until at least the very late 1570s, probably 1580 on. But I loved that Gortner positioned him as a (sinister) secondary player and as someone already well known to Cecil (which he was, but likely not in that sense) and versed in the arts of intelligencing.
Though this would make an excellent finale to a great trilogy, I am really hoping there are more Brendan Prescott books to follow, after all, its early days in Elizabeth’s reign, and so much more to happen – isn’t there, please C.W. Gortner?