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Read it with Antonia Fraser's 'The Gunpowder Plot'
on 30 April 2007
Clever rather than emotional, a thriller rather than a romance, this is a book belied by its cover. Dickason acknowledges Fraser's book in her afterword and I think the two would be ideal read together: Fraser for the political, religious and historical detail, and Dickason for the fictional take. At some stages I actually felt that Fraser had caught character far better than Dickason, which is a shortfall in the novelist, but that's just my feelling.
This is a book which almost falls into two halves: the first half set in early C17th London (the 'romance' half) and the second set in and around Brighton. Dickason tries to pull both strands of the story together but only manages it by huge coincidences! Still this is an entertaining read that brings in the gunpowder plot, Robert Cecil, Francis Bacon, lost pretenders to the Stuart throne, renaissance espionage and more.
I can't help feeling that Dickason was hugely influenced by Dorothy Dunnett's magisterial Lymond chronicles and perhaps pays a small homage to DD not so much in the plot but in the drivers behind the characters: Francis, and his troubled relationship to his father, with Kate as a Philippa figure (the similarity comes closer with the situation at the end). But the book is her own.
This is an enjoyable light read: nothing too tense, nothing too much at stake (we always know there's going to be a happy ending for the main characters) but it holds the attention and has some twists and turns in the plot.
I always find it very irritating though when historical novelists insist on making their main (pleasant!) characters adopt a C21st sensibility which proves them out of step with their own time: her Francis hates public executions and war, and refuses to sleep with whores, making him a very odd renaissance man (Sansom does the same thing in the Shardlake novels) and while I understand they're doing it to avoid alienating current readers, it jarrs any sense of C17th mores for me.
So altogether a 3-star read with enough pleasures to make me want to read the sequel (The Principessa).