Diana Norman's historical novels (not the `thrillers' written as Ariana Franklin) are, I think, really under-rated: visceral, brilliantly-written, atmospheric, witty, and steeped in an alien thought-world, they far outweigh more popular writers such as Philippa Gregory. So I was really looking forward to this: the Restoration theatre, Aphra Behn, Charles II, I couldn't wait to get started.
But the book seemed to me to take a long while to really get going. And after it did, it was great for a while... and then it stalled again. Eventually it picked up, only to draw to another halt, and so on. It's a book of many parts, telling many different stories: Penitance's arrival in England from America and her life in a Covent Garden slum area; her introduction to acting; the plague; her fall and prison life; her career as an actress; her life as a royal mistress; her new `career' in the country; her involvement in the Monmouth rebellion. Too much seemed to be going on, and some of it more interesting that other bits.
At heart, the love story is great. And Norman is always adept at fantastic dialogue. But everything around this central story (and there is a lot) fell away, as if she herself lost interest (as I did) when Henry King was off-stage.
The plot bears a lot of resemblances to A Catch of Consequence
although I'm not sure which was written first. So overall I have to admit to some disappointment, but the good bits are very, very good and more than make up for the slightly haphazard structure.