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The Conductor
The Conductor
by Sarah Quigley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.39

5.0 out of 5 stars A moving story of a city under siege, 19 Sep 2012
This review is from: The Conductor (Hardcover)
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It's 1941 and Russia is now at war with Germany. As the Nazis surround Leningrad with the aim of starving the city into submission, the composer Dmitri Shostakovich begins work on his Seventh Symphony. While other important musicians are being evacuated, Shostakovich insists on remaining to help defend his city. To his wife, Nina, the real reason he doesn't want to leave is because he doesn't want to be disturbed while writing his symphony and it seems to her that he is putting his music before the welfare of his family.

During the siege, the government orders that the Seventh Symphony be performed to raise the morale of the Soviet troops at the front. Since the members of Leningrad's famous Philharmonic Orchestra and their conductor Mravinsky have already been removed from the city, the job of performing the Seventh Symphony falls to another, less highly regarded conductor, Karl Eliasberg and the second-rate Radio Orchestra. Eliasberg finally has the chance to do something great, but it's not going to be easy...of the musicians who have stayed in Leningrad through the long, cold Russian winter some of them are dead and the others barely have the strength to lift their instruments. Alongside the stories of Shostakovich and Eliasberg is the story of a third man, Nikolai Nikolayev, and his beloved nine-year-old daughter, Sonya. Nikolai must make the heartbreaking decision of whether to risk sending Sonya out of Leningrad on her own while he stays behind to continue his work as violinist in the orchestra.

The Siege of Leningrad was surely one of the most horrific episodes of the Second World War. This book was maybe not quite as emotional as other novels I've read on the same subject but it was still very moving. The idea of people being so hungry they're driven to boiling down leather briefcases for protein or mixing water and hair oil to make soup, while watching as their family and friends die one by one of starvation or cold, is just horrible to think about. And yet the story is not too bleak or depressing because it's not only about war and suffering - it's also about the power of art and music and how something good can come from even the worst circumstances imaginable.

The characters Sarah Quigley has chosen to focus on in this novel are all interesting, three-dimensional people who each have their own set of problems and obstacles to overcome during the siege. My favourite was Karl Eliasberg, the conductor of the book's title. Based on a real person but one who we don't know much about, the author imagines him as a shy, awkward man with low self-esteem, desperate to have his talents recognised and to be accepted by the cultural elite. Shostakovich is his idol but every time he comes face to face with him he finds himself saying the wrong things and failing to give the impression he was hoping to give. Eliasberg's character is so well-written and believable I felt I could really understand him and empathise with him.

Despite Shostakovich being one of the central characters and the story revolving around one of his compositions, you don't really need any knowledge of classical music to enjoy this novel. However, I would highly recommend listening to the Seventh Symphony either during or after reading the book - it's definitely worth it!


River of Destiny
River of Destiny
by Barbara Erskine
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.06

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars River of Destiny, 25 July 2012
This review is from: River of Destiny (Hardcover)
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This is the first Barbara Erskine novel I've read. Knowing how popular she is and that I usually enjoy the type of books she writes - books that combine history and the supernatural - I've been meaning to try one for a long time but have never actually got around to it until now.

River of Destiny is set in three different time periods, one contemporary and two historical. The contemporary story follows Zoe and Ken Lloyd, who have moved away from London and bought a converted barn in Suffolk near the River Deben where Ken can indulge in his hobby, sailing. Zoe is not very happy with the move as she does not share Ken's passion for boats and has had to leave behind a job she enjoyed. To make things worse, she is starting to sense ghostly presences in and around their new home. Gradually Zoe begins to learn that some of these paranormal occurrences could be echoes of The Old Barn's eventful past.

In the novel's two historical storylines we learn more about the events of the past which are haunting Zoe in the present day. The first of these is set in the Victorian period and tells the story of Dan, a blacksmith who finds himself a target of the scheming Lady Emily Crosby. Dan's involvement with Emily will have tragic consequences. The third storyline is set in Anglo-Saxon England in the year 865 where we meet another smith, Eric, and his wife Edith. Amid the threat of a Viking invasion, Eric has been asked to forge a special sword for his lord, which he calls Destiny Maker - but it seems that the sword will not be given the chance to fulfil its destiny.

These three stories all take place in the same area of Suffolk, although in different periods, and are linked by sightings of a ghostly Viking ship sailing up the River Deben through a thick mist. Of the three storylines the one I found the most compelling was the contemporary one, which I thought had the most interesting group of characters: the mysterious Leo who lives alone in The Old Forge, Rosemary Formby who is on a mission to prove that walkers should have the right to cross a farmer's field, and twelve year-old Jade whose family own one of the other barn conversions, The Summer Barn, and who is determined to cause trouble for Zoe and Leo. It surprised me that the present day story was my favourite, as with my love of historical fiction I usually prefer the historical parts of multiple time-frame novels!

I enjoyed the first few chapters of the book and was anticipating a great read, but as I got further into the story I started to lose interest. I think the problem was that I just didn't like the way the novel was structured. The time shifts were a bit too frequent and abrupt for me and I also thought the story was told using too many different perspectives. Sometimes each section would only be two or three pages long - or even less - which meant I kept being pulled out of the flow of the story just as I was starting to get interested in it. I'm sure I would have enjoyed this book a lot more if I'd been able to get fully immersed in one storyline and one set of characters before moving on to the next.

So, after such a promising start I was left with mixed feelings about this book. As my first experience of Barbara Erskine's work it was disappointing, and I will now have to decide if I want to try any of her earlier novels.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 7, 2012 4:41 PM BST


The Map of Lost Memories
The Map of Lost Memories
by Kim Fay
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.04

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Map of Lost Memories, 27 Jun 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
As a woman in 1925, Irene Blum feels that her work does not get the recognition it deserves. When she misses out on the position of curator at Seattle's Brooke Museum, she dreams of making an important historical discovery, one that she can build her own museum around. Since her childhood she has been fascinated by Cambodia and its ancient Khmer civilisation, so when she learns of the possible existence of ten copper scrolls recording the history of the Khmer people she sets off on an expedition to Cambodia to search for them.

Irene begins her journey in Shanghai where she hopes to enlist the help of Simone Merlin, a revolutionary activist and Cambodian scholar who shares Irene's interest in the Khmer. Despite the disapproval of her abusive husband Simone agrees to join her. At first Irene is pleased to have Simone's support, but soon begins to wonder whether she might have reasons of her own for wanting to find the lost scrolls.

The novel is divided into three sections. The first is set in Shanghai, China, the second in Saigon, Vietnam and in the third Irene, Simone and their companions finally arrive at their destination, the Cambodian jungle. None of these are places that I know very much about (Cambodia was a completely new setting for me and the other two I only have a very limited knowledge of) and I loved all the descriptions of the three locations. It's always interesting to read about cultures that are entirely different to your own and by the time I'd finished the book I felt I'd learned a little bit about what life might have been like in China, Vietnam and Cambodia in the 1920s, as well as learning some facts about the Khmer civilisation.

The Map of Lost Memories is not a fast-paced thriller filled with non-stop action and adventure, although it might sound like one from the synopsis. Instead, the story develops quite slowly (a bit too slowly for me, to be honest, especially throughout the first half of the novel) and although Irene and Simone do have some adventures and things get more exciting later in the book, there's also a lot of focus on the personal lives of the two women, their relationships and their motives for searching for the legendary scrolls.

It was good to read a book set in the 1920s with strong female protagonists at a time when women didn't have the same career opportunities they have today. However, although I sympathised with Irene's frustration at her achievements constantly being overlooked or ignored and I admired her dedication and determination, I was never able to warm to her as a character. Unfortunately I didn't feel much connection to any of the other characters either, which meant that even when they were heading into danger I found I didn't really care what happened to them. The plot and the setting almost made up for my lack of interest in the characters so I did still enjoy the book, but not as much as I might otherwise have done. This was a promising debut novel, though - it was obvious that the author must have a real passion for Cambodia and Khmer history and that she knows the subject well.


The Sultan's Wife
The Sultan's Wife
by Jane Johnson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.03

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating historical fiction, 4 Jun 2012
This review is from: The Sultan's Wife (Paperback)
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The Sultan's Wife is set in Morocco in the year 1677 and is narrated by two different characters. The first is Nus-Nus, a eunuch slave in the palace of the Sultan Moulay Ismail and the second is Alys Swann, an Englishwoman who has been captured at sea by corsairs and given to the Sultan as a gift. Amidst the dangers and conspiracies of Ismail's court, Nus-Nus and Alys form a friendship and try to help each other survive.

I haven't read any of Jane Johnson's previous novels and chose to read this one purely because the setting sounded so interesting. I've never read a novel set in 17th century Morocco and I fell in love with the setting from the very first chapter. Everything was described so vividly, I wasn't surprised to find that the author lives in Morocco herself and has already written two other books set in the same country. I learned so many fascinating little facts about Moroccan history and culture and about the building of the historic city of Meknes (which was intended to rival Versailles). There are also a few chapters where the action moves to England and the court of Charles II in Restoration-period London. It was interesting to be shown the English court through the eyes of Nus-Nus and to see the ways in which it was both different and similar to the Moroccan court. But although there are lots of descriptions of food, clothing, furnishings etc, the pace of the story never slows down and there's always something happening.

Nus-Nus and Alys are fictional characters but Moulay Ismail, the Sultan, was a real person and is considered to be one of the cruelest rulers in history (one of his nicknames is 'the bloodthirsty'). This is something that Jane Johnson portrays very convincingly - based on some of the things he does in this novel, living in his household must have been a terrifying experience! Nus-Nus and the other slaves and courtiers are constantly in fear of their lives, knowing that they are at the mercy of his whim, and they have learned to be extra careful when they see him dressed in yellow as this indicates he's in a particularly murderous mood. Ismail's wife, Zidana, is also portrayed as a villain; a jealous, scheming person who uses poisons and witchcraft to attack her enemies.

Of the two narrators, I didn't find Alys Swann a very memorable character but I did really like Nus-Nus. In fact, he was the main reason why I enjoyed this book as much as I did. Nus-Nus was captured from his Senufo tribe as a young man and before coming to the Sultan's palace had spent some time assisting a British doctor who taught him to read and write and to speak English. These skills make him invaluable to both Ismail and Zidana and are the reason why he's in a position where he's able to befriend and help Alys. As a black slave and a eunuch, Nus-Nus is often treated unkindly by other members of the court, but still has a lot of dignity and courage. I thought he was a wonderful character.

The story does touch on some controversial subjects including slavery, racism and prejudice, torture and cruelty (some of the things described in the novel are very brutal and characters lose their lives in some gruesome ways) but I thought everything was handled sensitively. The only criticism I really have is that Alys didn't have a very distinctive voice; sometimes she didn't sound any different from Nus-Nus and I didn't immediately realise the narrator had changed. Apart from that, The Sultan's Wife was exciting, informative and swept me away to another time and place, which is what I'm always looking for in historical fiction. I loved it!


Sacrilege (Giordano Bruno 3)
Sacrilege (Giordano Bruno 3)
by S. J. Parris
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Third in the Giordano Bruno series, 31 May 2012
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Sacrilege is the third in a series of historical mysteries set in Tudor England and featuring Giordano Bruno, a former monk who left his monastery in Italy to escape the Inquisition. Bruno is now in London working as a spy for Queen Elizabeth I's Secretary of State and 'spymaster', Sir Francis Walsingham. At the beginning of Sacrilege, he is reunited with Sophia, a girl he met in a previous instalment of the series. Sophia has run away from her home in Canterbury after being accused of murdering her husband, Sir Edward Kingsley, and she wants Bruno to help clear her name.

Bruno agrees to travel to Canterbury with Sophia where he hopes to uncover the truth about Kingsley's death and discover the real murderer, but he also has another reason for visiting the city: Walsingham has asked him to investigate rumours of a Catholic plot against the Queen. But soon after his arrival there's another death and Bruno finds himself caught up in a conspiracy involving the remains of St Thomas Becket, the former Archbishop of Canterbury who was murdered in the cathedral centuries earlier.

If you're new to this series it would probably be better to start at the beginning with Heresy, and read the books in order. I haven't read the previous two novels and although I was able to follow the plot of this one without too many problems, I did feel I was missing out on some important background information. The novel is narrated in the first person by Giordano Bruno, but I felt I never really got to know him, which could be partly due to the fact that I started in the middle of the series. I thought he was likeable enough, but not really the charismatic narrator the blurb had promised.

I didn't know anything about Bruno before reading this book, but he was a real person, an Italian philosopher, mathematician and astronomer. It was interesting to read about him after finishing the novel and discover how much of his back story given in the book was based on the known facts about his life. We do meet some of the better known historical figures of the Elizabethan period too (Francis Walsingham and Sir Philip Sidney, for example) but although they do have a role to play, during most of the story they are kept in the background while the focus is on Bruno and his investigations.

The actual mystery storyline was interesting and complex. Although things did move forward at quite a fast pace, there were also a lot of long descriptive passages and I found I had to really concentrate on these because they sometimes contained clues and information that were vital to the plot. The novel appears to have been well researched and I thought the atmosphere of 16th century Canterbury, the city and the cathedral, was evoked quite well, but it all felt just a bit too modern to be completely convincing. I did enjoy Sacrilege but I don't think I liked it enough to want to read more books in this series.


The Midwife of Venice
The Midwife of Venice
by Roberta Rich
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

3.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining historical fiction novel, 11 April 2012
This review is from: The Midwife of Venice (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The Midwife of Venice is set in 1575 and is the story of Hannah Levi, a midwife who lives in the Jewish ghetto in Venice. Although Jews are forbidden to attend Christian women in childbirth, when the Conte di Padovani summons her to his wife one night Hannah agrees to go with him. The Conte promises that if she assists in the birth of his heir he'll reward her with a large sum of money - money that Hannah desperately needs so that she can pay the ransom to free her husband Isaac, who has been captured and taken to Valletta, Malta as a slave of the Knights of St John. But when it proves to be a difficult birth and Hannah is forced to use her special 'birthing spoons' (a device similar to forceps) she finds herself threatened with accusations of witchcraft.

The plot moves back and forth between Hannah in Venice and Isaac in Malta, until the two alternating storylines begin to come together. Luckily, I found both Hannah's and Isaac's adventures equally interesting to read about, so I didn't mind leaving one character behind for a while to find out what was happening to the other.

I loved the first few chapters of this book; the story's various locations (the Jewish ghetto, Venice's streets and canals, the island of Malta) were vividly described without being too detailed, and it was interesting to learn about the relationship between the Christians and Jews in 16th century Venice. But halfway through, the plot started to take some dramatic twists and turns which I can only describe as unbelievable and ridiculous. Hannah was a likeable enough character, but it seemed to me that everything worked out too easily for her (and for Isaac) - there were too many coincidences, too many last-minute escapes and the villains were too easily defeated. If you can suspend your disbelief it's all very entertaining I suppose - with murder, kidnapping, blackmail, disguises, slavery and even the plague, it's certainly never boring - but I think I would have preferred something slightly more serious!

One other little problem I had was with the number of Italian and Jewish terms that were dropped into the text, a lot of which were unfamiliar to me. There was a glossary at the end of the book which I didn't discover until too late - it would have been helpful to have known about it before I began instead of when I was nearly finished.

Although I prefer historical fiction novels to have a bit more depth than this one, The Midwife of Venice was fun to read. The setting and subject matter were unusual and interesting, and the fast pace and cliffhanger chapter endings made it a quick read.


The Crown
The Crown
by Nancy Bilyeau
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.37

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining historical thriller set in Tudor England, 23 Mar 2012
This review is from: The Crown (Paperback)
Nancy Bilyeau's first novel, The Crown, is a historical mystery set during the Tudor period, beginning just before the death of Henry VIII's third wife Jane Seymour. The story revolves around the search for a legendary crown which is said to possess special powers. Our heroine and narrator is Joanna Stafford, niece of the third Duke of Buckingham, and a novice nun at Dartford Priory.

When Sister Joanna escapes from the priory and travels to London to witness the execution of her cousin for treason she is unfortunate enough to be captured and taken to the Tower of London. Here she is visited by Stephen Gardiner, the Bishop of Winchester, who sends her back to Dartford on a mission to find the mysterious Athelstan crown which he believes could be hidden somewhere within the priory. As Joanna learns more about the crown she starts to wonder why the Bishop wants it so desperately, but with her beloved father also imprisoned in the Tower and threatened with torture, it seems she has no choice but to obey Gardiner's orders...

This was one of the most entertaining Tudor novels I've read and a real page turner from beginning to end. When the search for the Athelstan crown began I was concerned it might become too much like The Da Vinci Code but that didn't happen. The mystery of the hidden relic was an important part of the story, but not at the expense of the character development or the wonderful sense of time and place that the author creates.

I really liked Joanna Stafford. One of the things that makes her such an interesting narrator is the constant conflict between her commitment to the vows she's required to take as a nun and her desire to do whatever is necessary to help her father, even if it means breaking some of these vows. The fact that she sometimes struggles with her conscience and doesn't always make the right decisions helped me to believe in her as a character.

As a member of one of England's most powerful families, Joanna meets a lot of famous names from the period including Katherine of Aragon, Anne and George Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Princess Mary, but unlike a lot of Tudor novels this one doesn't really focus on the court. Instead we are given lots of details on life in a priory and what it was like to be a nun during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, when on the orders of Henry VIII the religious houses of England, Wales and Ireland were closed down, destroyed or sold. This is not something I knew much about before starting this book and I had no idea what happened to the monks and nuns after the monasteries were dissolved, so it was good to learn more about the process and what it involved. But although there's plenty of history here, it really serves as a background to the plot and never slows the story down at all, so I think this book could be enjoyed by people who like thrillers and mystery novels as well as by fans of historical fiction.

The Crown is a complete story in itself, but the way it ended left me feeling that there were more adventures ahead for Joanna. Apparently Nancy Bilyeau has written a sequel and I'm already looking forward to reading it and entering Joanna's world again.


Mariana
Mariana
by Susanna Kearsley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful, haunting story, 23 Mar 2012
This review is from: Mariana (Paperback)
From the moment Julia Beckett first sees Greywethers as a five-year-old, she knows there's something special about the lonely farmhouse, but it's not until she's an adult and a successful illustrator of children's books that she gets the chance to buy it. As she settles into her new home, Julia gets to know her new neighbours, including the gardener Iain Sumner, Geoffrey de Mornay, the owner of nearby Crofton Hall (which is said to be haunted), and Freda Hutherson, who somehow seems to know a lot about Julia without being told.

Soon Julia's life becomes mysteriously linked with the life of Mariana Farr, a young woman who lived at Greywethers with her uncle in the 17th century. As Julia spends more and more time in the 1600s she grows increasingly obsessed with Mariana's story and starts finding it difficult to keep the past separate from the present.

There are some books that feel like they could almost have been written specifically for me and Mariana is one of them - it had all the things I love in a book and I really have nothing negative to say about it. The time period for the historical sections is one that I always find interesting to read about (the Restoration era, the plague and the aftermath of the English Civil War), the characters are easy to like and the relationships between them feel believable, and I also loved the atmosphere - although this is not actually a ghost story, it does have quite a ghostly, haunting feel.

Novels with dual time frames don't often work for me as I usually find myself enjoying the historical storyline more than the modern day one. That was not a problem with this book because the events that took place in the two time periods were very closely connected and the transitions between the two were so smooth I hardly noticed when one changed to the other. The way Julia moves between the centuries really felt convincing.

The ending was unexpected and really surprised me because I certainly hadn't guessed what was going to happen. It was maybe a bit abrupt and left a few things unresolved, but I liked it. Susanna Kearsley's writing reminds me of two other authors whose novels I love - Daphne du Maurier and Mary Stewart. Having enjoyed this one and The Rose Garden so much I'm looking forward to reading more of her books.


The Hunger Trace
The Hunger Trace
by Edward Hogan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £7.74

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A beautifully written novel with wonderful characters, 23 Mar 2012
This review is from: The Hunger Trace (Hardcover)
The Hunger Trace is set in a small English village where three very different people are all trying to cope with the death of wildlife park owner David Bryant. There's David's wife, Maggie; his son from a previous marriage, Christopher; and their neighbour, Louisa. Throughout the pages of this novel we see how each character comes to terms with losing David and how they gradually learn to get along with each other.

Although there are some moments of drama when a fourth character, Adam, is introduced and when Derbyshire is hit by the worst floods in years, The Hunger Trace is definitely more of a character-driven novel but despite it being quite slow paced I was never bored. All of the main characters are interesting, three-dimensional people each with his or her own set of problems and secrets.

As David's widow, Maggie is left to run his business which has been having financial difficulties, to take responsibility for the welfare of his animals, and to look after her stepson Christopher. Feeling lonely and isolated, she tries to befriend Louisa, a falconer who lives alone with her birds of prey. However, Louisa has never liked Maggie, who she sees as just one of a long series of women who have passed in and out of David's life over the years. Louisa herself was connected to David by a terrible secret the two had shared since they were teenagers and now that he's gone she has little interest in anything apart from her hawks.

Christopher, although it wasn't actually stated in the book, seems to have a form of autism or something similar which he is taking medication for. He sometimes has trouble relating to other people (including his stepmother) and is often misunderstood; he's also obsessed with Robin Hood and spends most of his time at college trying to prove that his hero was a real historical figure! Christopher has a habit of saying 'erm' before almost every word, which did get a bit irritating to read, but it's this kind of attention to detail that made all of Edward Hogan's characters feel so realistic and believable. I initially found Maggie the easiest to like of the three, but eventually I began to warm to the others, particularly Louisa, who I thought was a wonderful character and so much more complex than just the unfriendly, hostile woman she appeared to be at the beginning of the book.

If you're wondering what the title of the book means, it's a term relating to falconry and its significance is explained during the course of the story. I loved the whole falconry aspect of the book, which is surprising as it's not something I would have expected to find so fascinating to read about. This was quite an unusual novel and maybe not one that I would normally have chosen to read, but I'm glad I did as I was very impressed by The Hunger Trace and by the quality of Edward Hogan's writing!


The Glovemaker
The Glovemaker
by Stacia M. Brown
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.08

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Slightly disappointing, 23 Mar 2012
This review is from: The Glovemaker (Paperback)
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The Glovemaker is set in Oliver Cromwell's England, just after the execution of Charles I in 1649, and follows the trial of Rachel Lockyer, a glovemaker's assistant who has been accused of killing her illegitimate child. A new law states that any unmarried woman who is found to have concealed the death of her baby must be guilty of murder. Apart from Rachel herself, nobody knows the truth about what happened, but Rachel is reluctant to speak up and defend herself, so it's left to investigator Thomas Bartwain to examine the evidence and the jury to decide whether Rachel should be sentenced to death.

The time period Stacia Brown has chosen for this novel is one that does not seem to be widely covered in historical fiction - the years between the English Civil War and the Restoration, when Oliver Cromwell ruled (known as the Interregnum) - and this is what had drawn me to the book. But when I read historical fiction I like to get a good sense of the period the book is set in and to feel as if I've been transported there myself and unfortunately, this did not happen with The Glovemaker. It didn't help that I kept noticing inaccuracies - houses here in England don't have stoops, for example, and I'm fairly sure we wouldn't have been eating cranberry biscuits in 1649 either. Just small things, but they meant that I was never able to feel completely immersed in the atmosphere of 17th century London.

I did think the parts of the book set in Newgate Prison and describing the conditions under which the prisoners lived were quite compelling. And I learned a lot about the Levellers, the political movement that some of the characters in the book are part of. One of the Levellers in the novel is William Walwyn, the father of Rachel Lockyer's child, who I discovered from the author's note was a real historical figure.

I thought The Glovemaker was interesting in that it portrayed what must have been a very real situation for a lot of women at that time who found themselves pregnant but without a husband. It seemed very unfair that if the woman's illegitimate child died at birth she would be assumed by law to have murdered it and unless she could produce a reliable witness, she would be sentenced to death - and even more unfair when you consider that this law did not apply to married women.

But other than as a study of the 17th century legal system, I wasn't quite sure what the purpose of this story was supposed to be. There was no mystery, because we were told in the opening pages that Rachel had concealed her child's death (we see her burying it behind the Smithfield slaughterhouse in the prologue) - the only question was whether or not the baby had died naturally. I didn't think the romance aspect of the book worked either: the affair between Rachel and William Walwyn formed quite a big part of the story but I never felt emotionally involved in their relationship. The one character who did interest me was Thomas Bartwain, the investigator in charge of Rachel's case, whose conscience starts to trouble him as he interviews witnesses and learns more about Rachel's story and the injustice of the law.

I just wish I had been able to care about Rachel as this could have been such a moving story. Instead I was left feeling disappointed that, for me, this novel didn't live up to its potential.


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