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4.0 out of 5 stars
Sacred Treason
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100 of 107 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine 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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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine 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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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine 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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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 24 July 2010
Format: HardcoverVine 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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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I'm a fan of historical fiction set in Tudor times, and indeed I'm a huge fan of the Shardlake series by Sansom set in this time period. When this book was offered to me through Amazon Vine and sold as a one for fans of Sansom, I jumped at the chance to try it.

This was many months ago and several times now I've started reading this, lost interest, come back to it a month or two later, lost interest again.... You get the picture.

It just doesn't compare to the Shardlake series at all. It's not gripping at all and I find myself not caring about the characters or storyline.

Give it a miss.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 August 2010
Despite Forrester's academic credentials (James Forrester is a pen-name for Dr Ian Mortimer, author of The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England), Sacred Treason is anything but a dry historical account of the affairs of the English royal court in 1563, but is rather an entertaining little adventure that, with a little speculation, uses the period detail as a solid background for its mystery to unfold.

Unwittingly finding himself at the centre of what turns out to be a serious charge of treason against the monarch Queen Elizabeth, is William Harley, royal herald, known as Clarenceux King of Arms. Clarenceux has in his possession important book, a chronicle kept by his old friend Henry Machyn, handed over to him for safekeeping just before Machyn is arrested. Clarenceux has been told that the chronicle holds the key to the fate of two queens, and more than that, it could also have repercussions for the persecuted "old religion" of Catholicism. Finding himself arrested and in danger of facing execution for possession of treasonable documents, persecuted by authorities at the highest level and with a particularly cruel sergeant-at-arms looking for vengeance, Clarenceux has no option but to try and discover the meaning of the chronicle in his possession and the significance of the dates entrusted to a covert group who have named themselves after the Knights of the Round Table.

In many ways, there isn't anything particularly original about the plot or the characterisation of Sacred Treason, the majority of the story being that of a standard conspiracy thriller with an innocent man at the centre, pursued by the ruthless henchmen of higher authorities with a mysterious political agenda of their own (it could be any Hitchcock thriller or The Bourne Identity in this respect), but while the period detail is downplayed in favour of the plotting for the most part, it's not insignificant.

Some might prefer a little more detail in the descriptions of medieval London, but being character and dialogue driven makes the story much more readable, without losing any of the essential flavour of the period. Intriguing hints and historical background are dropped in at the essential moments, but in service of the adventure and without there ever being any feeling of the author demonstrating the depth of his knowledge or historical research. This makes Sacred Treason all the more readable and entertaining, while at the same time delivering a story where the personal, political and historical repercussions are fully explored.
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