Tilbury, England in the winter of 1591. This is the second book in the series (the first was The Angel’s Mark) and this book takes off more or less exactly where that one ended.
Nicholas Shelby, physician and reluctant spy, returns to his
old haunts on London’s lawless Bankside. But, when spymaster Robert Cecil asks
him to investigate the dubious practices of a mysterious doctor from
Switzerland, Nicholas is soon embroiled in a conspiracy that threatens not just
the life of an innocent young patient, but the overthrow of Queen Elizabeth
With fellow healer and mistress of the Jackdaw tavern,
Bianca Merton, again at his side, Nicholas is drawn into a sinister world of
zealots, charlatans and dangerous fanatics…
Who are the main characters?
As above, the main characters are Nicholas Shelby and his
friend Bianca Merton. He is a physician who has turned his back on the practice,
and she is an Italian apothecary – licenced only because Nicholas put in a word
for her at the guildhall – who runs a tavern. Along with a handful of small
characters, these two form the backbone of both books in this series, but this
book introduces a plethora of other minor characters that will probably not
return in the next.
Where is it set?
It is mainly set in Bankside, which is the south bank of the
River Thames in London and known as
Southwark today. It is a tough area of London and houses a lot of immigrant
workers from the ships as well as the more nefarious characters who would rob
you as they looked in your eye and said good morning.
My thoughts on the book:
I desperately wanted to love this book, but was disappointed
that I only liked it. I am a big fan
of C J Samson’s work of the same period (the Matthew Shardlake chronicles) and
I was hoping that this would be as good as those, but sadly it’s not. The first
in this series was a promising start – a likeable and well-rounded central
character in Nicholas Shelby, a likely and believable supporting character in
Bianca Merton, a decent enough plot with enough subplots and secondary plots to
it that it looked like it was forming the basis of a decent series. However,
this second book doesn’t live up to that same standard as the first in my
opinion. The plot – Nicholas trying to stop a fellow physician from doing
experiments on a young lad with epilepsy, a secret son/grandson who may or may
not have been Queen Mary’s, a very improbable Kit Marlowe hanging about in the
Jackdaw tavern testing out a dodgy play and so on – just feels a bit too contrived
and a bit too forced to me. The subplot of the developing relationship between
Nick and Bianca also felt a bit too contrived to me too. The narrative is quite
repetitive in telling us that he is grieving for his wife who died giving birth
to his child, and yet by the end of the book, all of a sudden there is a
romance in the air. Doesn’t quite sit right for me.
I have read a lot of other reviews on this (Goodreads and
Amazon) and I find that I am alone in finding it lacking somewhat. There are
hyperbolic statements from other authors and critics all over the book’s Amazon
page saying it is “sumptuous” and “delicious” etc, but I think I might have
been looking at a different book! I have to give it credit for being a good
paced narrative, with a proper story arc that had a beginning, a middle and an
end, and I am (as ever) in awe of any author who can get his nose to the
grindstone day in and day out to get a novel written in the first place. But I
am a bit disappointed by it and found that there was a bit too much repetition,
cliché and obvious plot twists for it to deserve the hype on Amazon and
Will I read the next in the series?
Do you know what, I probably will. I have a feeling that
this is a series that will probably mature and develop as the books are written
– so long as they are not rushed and are not “dumbed down” to meet publishing
deadlines etc. The two main characters have grown on me during the two book
series so far and I genuinely want to know what they get up to next. Just, next
time, can we have a bit more of an original plot and not so many occasions
where we are told about Nicholas’ love for his dead wife please?
Would I recommend it to my friends?
Yes. It is a historical novel in the sense that it is set in
16th Century Tudor England, but the writing style makes it an easy
read. It is not bogged down by a lot of “old” language and even though I’ve
moaned about it being not as good as the first one, it is a decent read if you
don’t want anything too challenging to tax you.