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Sacred Treason (Clarenceux Trilogy Book 1) by [Forrester, James]
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Sacred Treason (Clarenceux Trilogy Book 1) Kindle Edition

4.0 out of 5 stars 119 customer reviews

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Length: 418 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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Amazon Review

A Q&A with James Forrester / Ian Mortimer

Q: With a long career as a critically acclaimed writer of non-fiction, what prompted you to write fiction?

A: Lots of reasons but one immediately jumps to mind. I enjoy the drama of people's lives, and exploring why they make the decisions they do--whether for outward reasons (threats, physical force, etc.) or inward reasons (fear, their own prejudices, etc.). There is only so far you can push an exploration of this historically, especially with kings; so fiction is a natural form of escapism for me. And once you make that leap away from relying on a evidence base and proving your case, you realise there are all sorts of poetic understandings of the past that you can introduce into a novel but have to leave out of a non-fiction book.

Q: How important do you feel is it to be accurate when writing historical fiction?

A: This is a hard question to answer: it needs a whole book! Briefly, it depends on the plot, its location, its political nature, things like that. A writer's accuracy is a bit like a diet in that he/she has to try things out to see what works for him or her. For example, I am quite happy to invent a character if a certain sort of character is needed for dramatic tension--and in that inventiveness I am throwing away all pretence of accuracy--but I consider it very important to get the character right. I myself consider it equally important to be accurate with regard to social detail. If a Catholic man walked into a tavern in 1563 and saw meat being roasted on a spit in Lent, he would be appalled--and for this not to be remarked on in a modern story would show a lack of understanding of the period on the part of the author, and thus question the author's engagement with the period.

Q: Your first novel Sacred Treason begins in 1563, during the reign of Elizabeth, the last of the Tudor dynasty. What is it about this period that fascinates you as a writer?

A: All the human past fascinates me--at least, all the past that I can imagine and sympathise with. I could just as happily write about Roman Britain or twentieth-century textile workers. As long as there was some drama to their lives. But the 1560s have several particular advantages. The political situation is sufficiently removed from our own that we can simplify its threats and opportunities for the sake of an exciting story. Its ‘differentness' also allows us to escape our modern technologically maddening, resource-constrained era. I like the environment of the pre-industrial past, in which people can be lost somewhere and not tracked by GPS signals or thermal imaging or Internet usage. Also it is possible to picture what people looked like and how they spoke, as enough portraits, letters and literary works survive. The same cannot be said of fourteenth-century England. So it is perfect escapist platform for a novelist--different and yet not wholly alien from our own age.

Q: Your protagonist William Harley holds a unique position in Elizabethan society as a King of Arms. Can you explain to the reader a little more about this role?

A: Heralds were (and still are) members of the College of Arms, incorporated by a charter of Richard III in 1484. In medieval times they arranged tournaments and recorded knights' coats of arms for the purposes of identification. They still do the latter but modern day knights tend not to joust against each other (more's the pity). Clarenceux King of Arms was second highest-ranking of three ‘kings of arms' who were (and are) the senior heralds. The character on whom I based my story, William Harvey, was Clarenceux King of Arms in 1557 and declared war on France on behalf of the queen. So it was not all just family trees and shield designs.

Q: The plot centres on the discovery and concealment of a manuscript, a manuscript which holds a powerful secret with the potential to change the course of history. Did such a manuscript exist? If so, where is it now?

A: I can't properly answer this question without giving too much away about the story. Basically yes. The chronicle that appears in the book is today in the British Library--although the real thing lacks its cover and quite a lot of text, having been burnt in 1731. The specific bit that had the potential to change the course of history... No, I'm not going to tell you! It's not entirely fiction, put it that way.

Q: Besides Clarenceux, of all the other characters in the book, which ones did you most enjoy creating and which presented the greatest challenge?

A: Historical evidence before 1800 is biased towards men, and as a historian I am constantly writing about men doing male-only things with other men. And much though I love all that, the absence of women from the pages of the past makes me want to hear more female voices. So it's writing about women that gives me most pleasure. But for the obvious reasons, they present the greatest challenges. A comparative lack of evidence for women's lives, coupled with my being a man, means that I find it far harder to imagine the daily life and concerns of a sixteenth century merchant taylor's wife than the merchant taylor himself.

Q: How do you think your novel speaks to today's reader or how do the events you evoke resonate in today's world?

A: History is all about people, not dry dusty objects or ruined castles. It is about how people relate to one another, and how they deal with life's human challenges and natural adversities. Both history and fiction have this in common: they are ways of describing human nature and all its foibles, achievements and wonder over a period of time--not just showing it in the mirror of the present moment. The difficult decisions that a man has to make when struggling with his faith are common to many periods in time; the exact nature of those decisions alters over time but the issue of whether one stands by a matter of faith in the face of political repression is common to many periods and places.

Q: And finally, will your protagonist Clarenceux King of Arms return?

A: I am writing the sequel now. Clarenceux returns in a big way--the working title is The Roots of Betrayal.


"the book is an ingenious, authentically imagined treat from an author who knows how to conjure up a vanished world." -- Peter Millar, The Times, July 24, 2010

Anyone impatiently waiting for their next CJ Sansom fix could do far worse than investigate James Forrester's excellent new novel Sacred Treason... James Forrester is certainly one to watch and Sacred Treason is that most underrated of things, a damned good read. -- bookgeeks.co.uk, August 2, 2010

"an Elizabethan romp featuring a conspiracy, a secret manuscript and whispers about Anne Boleyn" -- John Dugdale, Sunday Times, August 15, 2010

"Vivid and dramatic, with some nail-biting set pieces involving the sacking of houses and a headlong pursuit through a maze of secret passages, Sacred Treason wears its considerable research lightly." -- Laura Wilson, Guardian, August 14, 2010

"really absorbing thriller set around the puzzle of Anne Boleyn's first marriage... Forrester writes gripping fiction, with realistic characters who retain their historical plausibility."
-- AN Wilson, Financial Times, August 14, 2010

"really absorbing thriller set around the puzzle of Anne Boleyn's first marriage... Forrester writes gripping fiction, with realistic characters who retain their historical plausibility." -- AN Wilson,Financial Times Weekend, August 14, 2010

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1305 KB
  • Print Length: 418 pages
  • Publisher: Review (8 May 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0049MPHOE
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars 119 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #25,444 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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.
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By Mike VINE VOICE on 5 Aug. 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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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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read the reviews for the trilogy of books featuring William Harley,otherwise known as Clarenceux ,King of Arms,so bought all 3 at the same time.This first book,Sacred Treason,at first made me think I had made a big mistake.It is repetitious and,in my opinion,quite far fetched.How our hero manages to stay alive through numerous conflicts,with fantastic powers of recovery I don't know.He gets out of impossible positions , is at deaths door,but carries on undaunted,as though he has just tripped over a paving stone...I ploughed through the book,as I hate giving up on any book,and in the end it was just about worth the struggle.The reason it was worth the struggle was I am now into the second book,The Roots of Betrayal.I have found myself well versed in the characters,etc,from the first book,so I am not struggling to follow what's going,etc,and ,have found it zips along with great pace.I think this is due to the short chapters , which swing from one character to another , ( some chapters are barely a page long) and encourage you to carry on reading the next part of the plot.I know this is incidental to the review of Sacred Treasure,but I realise now that without reading Sacred Treasure first I would not be enjoying the second book as much as I am.So,my initial worry of having made a mistake buying all 3 books has now been replaced with more enjoyment from the second book The Roots of Betrayal and I will probably now look forward to the third book in this trilogy,The Final Sacrament.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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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