From the blurb:
A thrilling account of one of English history’s most daring women, who risked everything in the dark days leading up to the Civil War.
Court beauty, Lucy Russell, Countess of Bedford, feels frustrated by life with her weak husband. Poverty stricken, they are confined to their country estate and excluded from court life in London after he disastrously allies himself against Elizabeth I.
Now, some years later, James I is seated on the English throne. His daughter, Elizabeth Stuart, former confidant of Lucy, has married the King of Bohemia. The precarious political situation in Europe is fraught, setting father against daughter. When Elizabeth and her husband are deposed, exiled and forced on the run, James is in no mood to come to Elizabeth’s aid.
Hearing of Elizabeth’s predicament, Lucy sees an opportunity to re-establish the Bedford name and offers herself as a peace envoy between the two parties. Setting out on a daring mission across the channel, Lucy discovers she is being manipulated by unscrupulous men, not least the calculating and darkly handsome Duke of Buckingham.
Can Lucy tread this most dangerous path, or by risking everything, will she pay the ultimate price?
I love historical fiction, particularly that set in Britain, and so was keen to read this novel, especially when I discovered that the author worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company for many years – what a wonderful job, and such a chance to immerse oneself in period stories.
The novel is beautifully written and expertly researched. I particularly enjoyed reading the historical information included at the end of the book, on characters, settings and events. I found myself entirely relaxed that the author knew her facts inside out, and had crafted them carefully into an engaging, realistic tale. Lucy is a heroine whom it is impossible not to like: strong, courageous, intelligent and altogether human in her inner struggles. A vein of tragic grief provides a poignant undercurrent for the book, set up in the very first pages as Lucy contemplates suicide, and the other emotional pull which I found powerful is Lucy’s fierce loyalty to her queen, and in many ways surrogate daughter, Elizabeth Stuart, The Winter Queen.
There is love in this story – between Lucy and the poet John Donne – but I’m not sure I would class this as romantic historical fiction because to me the love element was not a major part of the story. Still, it echoes through.
For me, the key strength of the book is the care that the author takes to let us into Lucy’s thoughts and feelings. There is plenty of pace, but also plenty of attention given to how Lucy perceives events. I enjoy books that contain this emotional dimension, and I think that’s what makes this book stand out as memorable.
The Noble Assassin is available now from Amazon; click on the book cover below to visit the store.