1584: Elizabeth I rules England. But a dangerous plot is brewing in court, and Mary Queen of Scots will stop at nothing to take her cousin’s throne.
There’s only one thing standing in her way: Tom, the queen’s trusted apothecary, who makes the perfect silent spy…
2021: Travelling the globe in her campervan, Mathilde has never belonged anywhere. So when she receives news of an inheritance, she is shocked to discover she has a family in England.
Just like Mathilde, the medieval hall she inherits conceals secrets, and she quickly makes a haunting discovery. Can she unravel the truth about what happened there all those years ago? And will she finally find a place to call home?
I was provided with a copy of The Queen’s Spy by the publisher via NetGalley for the purposes of review, so my thanks to them. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.
I was a huge fan of Clare Marchant’s debut novel, The Secrets of Saffron Hall, so I was very keen to read her ‘difficult second novel’ which features a character from the first novel, but has moved forward slightly in time historically to the court of Queen Elizabeth I.
Well, Clare has made the ‘difficult second novel’ look as easy and breezy as the first with this book. Again we are dealing with a dual timeline, in modern day Norfolk, and sixteenth century London, following the lives of two nomadic souls. In the present day, rootless Mathilde has travelled to England to find out more about an unexpected inheritance and family she had no idea existed. However, she has no intention of staying in the ancient house with its hidden secrets any longer than she must. But the ghosts that haunt the place aren’t keen on letting her go until she has uncovered their stories.
Back in the 1500s, Tom also also travelled from France to make a new life. Both deaf and mute, he also finds it difficult to fit in and put down roots, until he finds how useful he can be to England’s powerful Queen in her war against the cousin who would usurp her throne. Tom and Mathilde’s stories run parallel in their quests for a home and a family they never knew they wanted or believed they could ever have.
What I really loved about this book, and what makes it stand out for me in the canon of dual timeline romances, is the featuring of a male protagonist as the vessel for the story in the past timeline. Clare slips as easily into the skin of sixteenth century male servant just as easily as she did the shoes of her female protagonist in the historical part of her previous novel. She has managed to capture life from his perspective – poor, foreign, physically disadvantaged – absolutely perfectly so that he feels fully authentic and really brings the period to life. The peril in which those without power lived day to day, subject to the whims of their capricious overlords and living in a court full of danger and intrigue. You can feel the fear emanating from the pages.
Equally, in the modern day, I loved the prickly character of Mathilde, thrust into an equally strange environment. Fiercely independent but secretly lonely and vulnerable, she has put up a barrier to everyone else that is going to be hard for anyone to break down. However, over the course of the novel we understand, along with the other characters, why she is as she is and how to get at the real person underneath. Despite her awkward character, you can’t help but sympathise with her, and long for her to see what she could have if she lets people in.
The author has woven the two timelines together perfectly again, the transition between past and present not at all jarring to the reader. Bothe timelines are alive with imagery – sights, sounds, scents bringing each setting fully to life. Exploring the flat, open landscape of Norfolk, and the dank, crowded streets of Elizabethan London with equal aplomb, this is a truly transportive novel. Particularly emotionally, I found, as both the plights of Mathilde and Tom moved me, especially the ending.
This is a great read for anyone fond of this historical period, fans of dual timelines, or those who just love a well-written, immersive novel exploring love and relationships and what humans really need to live fulfilling lives.
The Queen’s Spy is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.
About the Author
Growing up in Surrey, Clare always dreamed of being a writer. Instead, she followed a career in IT, before moving to Norfolk for a quieter life and re-training as a jeweller.
Now writing full time, she lives with her husband and the youngest two of her six children. Weekends are spent exploring local castles and monastic ruins, or visiting the nearby coast.
Connect with Clare:
Facebook: Clare Marchant Author