John Shakespeare becomes embroiled in the Babington Plot to free the exiled Catholic Mary Queen of Scots, to assassinate her Protestant cousin Queen Elizabeth I and to put Mary in the English throne.
We enjoy subplots galore, weaving around fishing fleets and family dynasties, a criminal mastermind, his thugs and hideouts, ensnaring highborn and low in a web of connections Shakespeare has to unravel in a race against time to save his former lover, Kat, from the hangman’s noose.
Sarah Dunant continues on from Blood & Beauty, following the Borgias as they extend their power over the city states that made up Renaissance Italy.
As Catalan Pope Alexander VI Rodrigo Borgia consolidates his control over the Catholic church, his offspring extend the dynasty’s authority in the secular world – Cesare Borgia by battle, siege and subterfuge, Lucrezia Borgia by marriage and courtly influence in Ferrara.
No 2 in the series, and (eventually) Falco heads off to the Bay of Naples for a holiday with best friend Petronius and family, plus his own nephew, Larius. Oh, and an ulterior motive – the ongoing search for the scheming senators who fled Rome after their plot against Emperor Vespasian failed….
Getting hold of The Silver Pigs in itself comprised a mini-quest – requiring a request to retrieve it from Barbican Library stores. As an aside, I appreciate that shelf space is limited, but it is so frustrating that they can’t keep entire series available on the shelves. The same thing afflicts Robin Hobbs’ Farseer novels. But, at least the request/retrieval system is free and efficient.
What didn’t I like ? The cocky attitude and the socially superior male gaze. And then I realised it was a mechanism to show Falco’s failings – the swagger hiding the insecurities and loneliness of a single man in his early 30s.
Straight on to Shadows In Bronze!
(Although I am going to take the diversion into The Course of Honour straight after – Barbican Stores permitting.)
I completely loved this novel, and didn’t want it to end.
From the start we know that the course of true love has not run smooth for elderly, enigmatic Flora Cochrane, née Mackie, dubbed the Snow Queen for her adolescent trips north of the Arctic Circle with her Dundee whaler father and the summers spent on the Greenland coasts, sharing the shoreline with the local Inuit while the whalers killed whales for their profitable oil.
Much of the book is spent in the past, with the 1948 publicity flight to the North Pole,which opens the novel providing tantalising foreshadowings of the key events in Flora’s life.
We jump back in time to the 1880s to we meet 12 year old Flora Mackie on her first voyage to Greenland. We follow Flora through her University years in London where she studies meteorology and yearns to return north, which she achieves by marriage to a moneyed man and together they launch a British Scientific Expedition to the Arctic.
Alongside Flora’s early life, we learn that of New Yorker Jakob de Beyn, a geologist who joins Lester Armitage’s American expedition to reach the North Pole.
And so we know that Flora and Jakob will meet, but that their relationship will not last.
Great characters, wonderful descriptions of the Arctic’s peoples, ways of life, geography and climate. Although fictitious, Under A Pole Star does contain echoes of real people and events, and two in particular stood out for me – Robert Peary and Minik Wallace.