Wednesday 15 January 2020

Written in their Stars by Elizabeth St John Reviewed by Cryssa Bazos

shortlisted for Book of the Month

"Historical fiction at it’s finest. Elizabeth St. John’s writing is flawless, and she captures the essence of 17th century England in all its highs and lows."

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Lydiard Chronicles #3

biographical fiction / fictional saga

"London, 1649. Horrified eyewitnesses to King Charles’s bloody execution, Royalists Nan Wilmot and Frances Apsley plot to return the king’s exiled son to England’s throne, while their radical cousin Luce, the wife of king-killer John Hutchinson, rejoices in the new republic’s triumph. Nan exploits her high-ranking position as Countess of Rochester to manipulate England’s great divide, flouting Cromwell and establishing a Royalist spy network; while Frances and her husband Allen join the destitute prince in Paris’s Louvre Palace to support his restoration. As the women work from the shadows to topple Cromwell’s regime, their husbands fight openly for the throne on England’s bloody battlefields.
But will the return of the king be a victory, or destroy them all? Separated by loyalty and bound by love, Luce, Nan and Frances hold the fate of England—and their family—in their hands.
A true story based on surviving memoirs of Elizabeth St.John's family."

Historical fiction as it’s finest. Elizabeth St. John’s writing is flawless, and she captures the essence of 17th century England in all its highs and lows.

In the latest instalment to the Lydiard Chronicles, Elizabeth St. John faithfully captures the dark years of the Interregnum, when exiled Royalists are plotting to restore the monarchy while Parliament’s victory is tarnished by Cromwell’s ambition. The St. John family of Lydiard once again find themselves in the center of political events and struggle to balance their convictions against their loyalties to their family. The story is told through the experiences of three women bound by kinship...

Luce Hutchinson, the rebel, is a staunch advocate of Parliament’s ideologies and encouraged her husband to sign King Charles’s death warrant. Not only does this put her at odds with her brother, who is an equally staunch supporter of the monarchy, but over time, Cromwell’s ambition and paranoia threatens her principled husband. 

Frances Apsley, the courtier, follows her husband to the exiled court in France and has to maneuver the machinations of an impoverished court while keeping her family together. Frances was one of my favourite characters from By Love Divided, so it was wonderful to see her grit and resilience in this story. 

And finally, the star of the story, Nan Wilmot, the spymistress. Nan is the wife of Henry Wilmot, daring cavalier and close friend of the exiled King. While her husband works abroad to support the king’s restoration, Nan is left behind to navigate precarious waters, keeping her estates from seizure while acting as a conduit of information between England and the exiled court in France. The rare moments that Nan has with her husband Henry are tender and incredibly touching. 

Elizabeth St. John breathes life to these real-life people and impresses on us how grim this period of English history was. I loved reading about the spy network and the techniques used to encrypt letters, and the raw descriptions of the exiled court are unparalleled. I could see and smell the squalor and desperation.

A well-researched and elegantly written biographical historical novel. Highly recommended.

© Cryssa Bazos
e-version reviewed

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