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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book is written under a pseudonym of a well-known historian, and this clearly shows in the detail behind the plot and the period setting of this book. However, it is the characters which make this book so good, and the way that the author gives us a slightly different take on history, without a hysteria factor.

The story centres on a book given to the Clarenceux Herald by Henry Machyn. This book is real, and is the subject of the author's non-fiction work. A chronicle is just a diary, so what could be so bad about giving someone your diary when you suspect that you are about to arrested on suspicion of treason. This is Elizabethan England, where the government of the Queen, in the form of Sir William Cecil made the 'Reds Under The Beds' American paranoia of the Forties and Fifties look like child's play.

Walsingham, a well documented historical figure, has been charged by Cecil with investigating any suspected plots which could endanger Elizabeth. What could be more dangerous than the suspicion that Elizabeth had no right to the throne on the basis of being illegitimate, not just in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church, but also under the law of the Church of England? And, if such a suspicion turned out to be true, then it could mean the return of a Catholic monarch in the form of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the violence associated with a Catholic monarch that people remembered from the reign of Bloody Mary.

Walsingham's methods, as administered by a variety of not very savoury characters, are horrific, and Clarenceux finds himself the unwilling (initially) participant in an investigation. His home is wrecked, his wife and daughters forced to flee London, and he is on the run, all in a matter of days following the visit, in the middle of the night by Henry Machyn. Things become personal when he acts in self-defence and kills a man, who happens to be the brother of Walsingham's 'bully boys', after one of his servant boys is hanged without justification during a search of his home.

Having read books about Elizabethan England, Cecil and Walsingham, I enjoyed particularly an insight into these men, and how driven they were to keep England safe. That is the twist at the end, which I found very surprising and which really demonstrated the quality of this book. I could really empathise with the character of Clarenceux, as well as the female protagonist, Henry Machyn's wife Rebecca. The descriptions of Elizabethan England really gave flavour, not least because the book was about the 'man in the street' (relatively speaking), which is not often well illustrated in non-fiction books about the period.

Overall, the book takes historical documentation and weaves a believable story around them. When you reach the end of the book and realise how short a time period it covers (approximately a month), it makes it even more gripping: a chronicle about a real chronicle. This is history brought alive, and well worth reading.
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VINE VOICEon 5 August 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
When I started this book I thought it was going to be in the Da Vinci Code genre but it turned out to be so much more. A mystery, set in the early part of Elizabeth I's reign, this story is loaded with historical facts with the fictional aspect woven in. We follow an honorable man's search for the truth in a time of conflict, fear and murder, whilst protecting a secret which could change the course of history. Written with passion and historical accuracy this is definitely in the "couldn't put it down" category.

The only thing that put me off was the cover as it looked very Secret/Da Vinci code but ignore that and get into the book and it is a fantastic read.

Strongly recommended.
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VINE VOICEon 2 August 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I really enjoyed this book. At first, when I saw that an historian had written a fictional novel I was thinking I would be deluged with facts and historical events taking the edge off the main thrust of the story. Not a bit. I'm very pleased this author knows how to keep his readers turning the pages as a dark plot to overthrow Queen Elizabeth is set out for us to enjoy. Of course it is fiction so we have to imagine the `what ifs?' to keep the pace and the intrigue. We know, too, there was plenty of genuine intrigue at this time and Forrester brings alive the Elizabethan life as probably only an accredited historian could do.

I felt drawn into the lives of the people portrayed. I liked the atmosphere created which, when coupled with the action parts, only surprised me in how quickly I'd read the book. I'm delighted Clerenceux is returning and more delighted that I might expect further insight into this timespan, expressed in almost true-to-life scene-setting. A great read and not just for `by the pool' this time.
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on 20 August 2010
I was hooked from the first page - James Forrester (Ian Mortimer) has written a first-class novel. It is set in the early reign of Queen Elizabeth and centres around a chronicle which contains a document which if becomes known would bring about the downfall of 'two queens'. Initially you could be forgiven for thinking it is a not unusual plot but as the book progresses this is not the case. Ian Mortimer, being a Historian by profession has interlaced fact with fiction extremely well and the book is littered with facts that we know to be documented and there are a few surprises too. It is a book that contains all good elements for a terrific read, mysterious documents, secret societies, hidden passages, Royal intrigue, - the good 'Knight' Clarenceux and the 'bad' courtier - Walsingham and the 'Country's Saviour - Cecil.

All in all an excellent Elizabethan mystery that leaves you wondering - could this be true? I was hooked after the first page and enjoyed all 400+ pages - be prepared to take an unforgettable roller coaster of a read and enjoy!!!!
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on 24 March 2013
It`s rare that I feel moved to write a review.But this book was so frustrating and had potential,and the way the main character developed let it down.This had a promising start,a strange middle and a bizarre end.If a reader is expecting CJ Sansom or Rory Clements ,forget it,the main character is sanctimonious,naiive and hypocritical.Pretty much unlikeable ,in fact.The other characters are either really bad or curdlingley good.Having said all that it`s not the worst book I`ve read for under a fiver,it`s just that the competition in Tudor faction is so strong that this one really needs to up its game to even get near the neighbourhood of Clements and Sansom,who are both vastly superior.Won`t bother with the sequel.
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on 23 August 2011
It is 10 December 1563, after the curfew hour, Clarenceux, King of Arms, the respected herald William Harley receives a visitor, Henry Machyn an old and trusted friend. Machyn requests Harley to become the custodian of his chronicle which he began writing in 1550. The `diary' contains a secret which, should it fall into the wrong hands, could have profound consequences for Queen Elizabeth and the future of the realm. So starts an adventure for Harley and Machyn's widow involving spies, coded messages, intrigue, supposed Catholic plots and nail biting pursuits. Add to this the involvement of Francis Walsingham, the arch spy master of the time and the Queen's Secretary, William Cecil and there follows a real page turner of an historical novel.

Many of the characters were real people alive during the Elizabethan reign with a believable addition of fictional characters to enable the plot to unfold with speed and excitement. James Forrester is the pen name of Ian Mortimer, author of the acclaimed `The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England' who has carried his meticulous research of the characters and period to provide a vivid picture of life in Elizabethan England. I found myself sloshing through the mire of London streets in the dark of night, smelling the odours of the garbage flung from the houses into the streets, felt the biting cold of travelling on horse back through a bitter English winter.

The relationships between Harley, Machyn's widow Rebecca, Walsingham, Cecil and many other characters gives a further dimension to this very readable novel. When the `secret' of Machyn's chronicle is eventually revealed it raises an intriguing number of questions, which might form the basis of further tales. Strongly recommended as a `must read' addition to your list.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 23 April 2011
This book is a new departure to fiction for the author Ian Mortimer who has written several biographies and The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England, a light but intriguing look at what everyday life was actually like in Medieval England. I have read several of his books and enjoyed them thoroughly.

It was interesting then to approach his writing as a novelist. This book reads well, compellingly, as the reader is catapulted straight into the action set in London in 1563, five years after the accession of Elizabeth I to the throne, following her Catholic half-sister Mary. Elizabeth is still dealing with the legacy of the religious controversies and upheavals wrought in the reigns of her father Henry VIII, half-brother Edward VI and Mary. In this she is aided by Sir William Cecil, himself having somewhat shakily negotiated his way through several changes of State religion, and Francis Walsingham, her spy master. It was a time when it was dangerous to be an active Catholic, and the protagonists of this novel have to fight for what they believe is right, even though it may mean betrayal of their country, or their Queen.

The book races through the action, and the characters are well portrayed. It is particularly enjoyable in that the reader also has no more knowledge than the main characters as the story progresses as to what it is that Cecil and Walsingham are fighting so hard to find and overturn.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and look forward to more in this series. Clarenceux King of Arms is a man of honour and faith in a changing world, and I'm sure further stories involving him will be well worth exploring. If you enjoy this, you will enjoy the books of C J Sansom which stand well in comparison.
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on 24 February 2014
I bought this book because it was written by historian Ian Mortimer, and was hoping for something better than the usual HF fare, and it's impossible to criticise the history (which makes a change!)

However, this book demonstrates all the worst qualities of genre fiction. The characters weren't fleshed out, and just vehicles for the plot. The plot was derivative, hackneyed, and clichéd, as though it was straight out of Dan Brown's note book, using codes and ciphers that weren't that clever. Nothing really happens, just the two leads running from one part of London (via Sheffield at one point), there's a lot of torture, implied rape and murder (much of which could have been left to the readers imagination). The villains are of the dog-kicking variety, and I think Mortimer does a disservice to Walsingham who was much more clever and interesting a character than is seen here. The character of Rebecca also concerns me, as she isn't there to serve the plot, but just to be a victim (even Sophie in DVC was better developed than Rebecca.) The only character I did like was Lady Percy (by the way Mortimer, the Earls also have Warkworth Castle as well as Alnwick in Northumberland.)

I was also expecting a bit more Scottish history, with maybe a bit of complicity from Mary, Queen of Scots.

If you liked DVC you'll probably enjoy this. If you don't, best to avoid and stick with Shirley Mackay or CJ Sansom.
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William Harley, Clarenceux King of Arms, is a man of standing and respect. He is also a Catholic, which is why he is nervous of late night visits. When he is visited by Henry Machyn late one evening, he fears it is to be arrested. However, when the clearly afraid Machyn entrusts him with a chronicle, telling him, "the fate of two queens depends upon that book," he finds himself plunged into a possible Catholic conspiracy. Everything he feared - arrest, possible disgrace and the crumbling of his carefully constructed world comes true. Before long, Clarenceux and Rebecca Machyn, wife (soon to be widow) of Henry Machyn are forced to flee for their life; to protect the chronicle and try to discover the secret it contains.

This historical novel contains both real and fictional characters. Sir William Cecil and Francis Walsingham are in charge of protecting Elizabeth I, while the author has given Walsingham a fictional vicious sidekick in Crackenthorpe, who takes great delight in carrying out his orders. The fact that Clarenceux and Rebecca are both committed Catholics does limit where Forrester can take his characters - they spend much of the novel denying the attraction between them. However, this is the first book in a trilogy, the next title being The Roots of Betrayal (Clarenceux Trilogy 2) and I suspect that this possible love affair may resurface.
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VINE VOICEon 24 July 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A wonderful first novel from Mr Forrester. He really knows his subject, bringing to life the sights, sounds and smells of 16th centuary England.

He also brings to life the fears and terror, the intollerence and neaurosis of the time. A time when Catholics were persecuted for their faith and those in power - Walsingham among them - were not very Christian in their treatment and torture of them.

An excellant story based upon historical fact and what may be fact; the author weaves a convincing tale of life on the run and the feelings of the protagonists when making decisions and assumptions.

Although some of the names have been changed and a few other changes have been made, this book is populated by real people with real feelings, thoughts and worries. It is also a challenge to society today not fall back into religious intollerance to the point of killing.

All in all I would say that the book is about 50 pages too long - hence the one star off - as I feel the author stretches the story out too much.

Apart from that I would highly recommend this book to anyone with a taste for (historical) adventure and good story-telling.
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