Author – James Forrester
Published – 2011
Genre – Historical / thriller
1564: Catholic herald William Harley, Clarenceux King of Arms, is the custodian of a highly dangerous document. When it is stolen, Clarenceux immediately suspects a group of Catholic sympathisers, the self-styled Knights of the Round Table. Francis Walsingham, the ruthless protegé of the queen’s Principal Secretary, Sir William Cecil, intercepts a coded message from the Knights to a Countess known to have Catholic leanings. He is convinced that Clarenceux is trying to use the document to advance the cause of the Catholic Queen. And soon Clarenceux enters a nightmare of suspicion, deception and conspiracy. Conflict and fear, compounded by the religious doubts of the time, conceal a persistent mystery. Where has the document gone? Who has it and who really took it? And why? The roots of betrayal are deep and shocking: and Clarenceux’s journey towards the truth entails not just the discovery of clues and signs, but also the discovery of himself.
This is the second book featuring William Harley, Clarenceux King of Arms and I found it slow to get started, a lot of the early part of the book is taken up with background from the previous novel. Something which could perhaps have been given a more subtle treatment. The first chapters were also filled with too much detailed description – pirates with ‘smiling blue eyes’ or ‘dreamy eyed, pale skinned’ and I wondered what I was letting myself in for. But I was rewarded for my perseverance.
Set in 1564 Clarenceux has been entrusted with a controversial secret document which disappears at the same time as a woman from his past. A loyal catholic in the turbulent Tudor period Clarenceux seems to be a man of high morals who doesn’t want to see anyone persecuted for their beliefs. As such he finds his principles tested from all sides.
Clarenceux seems an unlikely hero. He really just wants a quiet life and when forced into action he can be naive in his approach to his adversaries, but he’s never half-hearted!
Once the story gets underway it turns into quite a swashbuckling adventure. Caught up in a web of intrigue and betrayal Clarenceux finds himself allied with a notorious pirate as he attempts to recover the document and discover the truth behind its disappearance. Much fighting ensues!
Betrayal is the over-arching theme of the book, and it really is pervasive, affecting most of the characters in the book in one way or another. Conversely there are great examples of loyalty and sacrifice, demonstrating the better side of human nature. The plot is particularly convoluted, just as you think you have it sussed, something crops up & realise that things haven’t been as they seemed.
Once the story got underway the pace picked up and this turned into a real page-turner. Thanks to @SamEades at Headline for my copy.
And it has a beautiful cover.
Score – 3/5