This historical romance is set in the Restoration period (the monarchy of Charles II). The book begins in Essex where our heroine, Lady Katherne, is living, her lands having been granted to her cousin's husband Sir William Pursevant after her father's death. However Lady Katherne is almost raped by Sir William, only being rescued in the nick of time by a serving maid, Martha, who hits him so hard that both women fear he is dead. They immediately set out on foot to try to escape justice which would see them both hung as murderesses. On the way they bump into Jeremy Hughes, a travelling player (actor) and although he initially hands them over to the constable in Chelmsford he eventually changes his mind and rescues them - especially after it is discovered that Sir William is still alive. Kit and Martha join the troupe of players for one night but then jealousy on the part of another actress, Lucy, means that Kit (Katherne) and her maid Martha are sent by Jeremy to London to train under Master George Jolly.
Kit takes to acting very quickly under the tutelage of Master Jolly and very soon after Jeremy appears in London. Kit's acting catches the attention of Lord Rochester but this is not necessarily a good thing. Kit and Jeremy survive the Great Fire of London in 1666 but have to rescue Martha from the Fleet and use Lord Rochester's influence to do this - at great risk and with some lasting effects. Can Kit and Jeremy have a future together when so many things seem to be against them?
The author writes well in the language of the restoration period. Her initial setting is Essex (to the East of London) and although she has evidently consulted a map in writing the distances that her characters travel I was rather amused to discover that Katherne and Jeremy travelled from Chelmsford to another town, Basildon; Chelmsford is an old town which was occupied by the Romans and became the county town of Essex in the early 13th Century; however Basildon is a new town which was built after World War 2 and the village that existed there beforehand was very small and not the town described in the book.
A number of historical characters appear in this book, not least Charles II and his mistress Nell Gwyn (although in reality she didn't become his mistress until 1668 within the novel she is spoken of as such in the year 1666). Nell Gwyn plays a role in the plot towards the end as a friend and confidante to Kit, as well as a role model of a strong woman. Lord Rochester is also in the book although rather more as a villain than hero. The author comments about some historical licence as part of her story but the characters were interesting enough to make me research them further having finished the book.
The description of London in 1666 and the Great Fire was very well written, though, and the harshness of life for people, particularly women, in Restoration times was well drawn. I enjoyed reading about Kit's training as an actress and her struggles with what seem rather modern opinions about the importance of women being self-sufficient and not relying on a man. She's a feisty heroine who finds herself involved in a duel, being kidnapped and many other adventures. The love story with Jeremy isn't as well drawn as some other parts of the story and it's not always entirely believable but it's an enjoyable read with good pacing and an interesting setting.
Originally published for Curled Up With A Good Book [...] © Helen Hancox 2007