Friday 1 August 2014
The Secret World of Christoval Alvarez review by Mary Hoffman
So it's a great pleasure to be able to review Ann's - I was going to say "latest" book but she is so prolific and quick that the sequel is already available and the third book coming soon.
To return to the first book, The Secret World of Christoval Alvarez, England in 1586 is a dangerous place. Queen Elizabeth the First has been on the throne for nearly thirty years and, at fifty and without an acknowledged heir, is now the subject of many plots to replace her with a Catholic monarch. Her chief Secretary is also her spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham.
Christoval, known as Kit, is learning his father's mystery, how to treat and heal sickness and injury. One night a young Player from the Earl of Leicester's Company calls for the doctor to come and treat a man in the Marshalsea Prison but Baltasar is away and young Christoval takes the case (which might have been poisoning but turns out only to be caused by bad oysters).
From that night, his adventures multiply and Christoval ends up in employ of Walsingham as a code-breaker and spy.
"The plot thickens" is a cliché but this one really does. Christoval has a secret of his own and a past filled with horrors, which we occasionally glimpse. But in his new life as one of Walsingham's "eyes and ears" he finds himself in greater danger than if he had stayed in Portugal.
Tudor buffs will recognise the date of 1586 and guess what plot Christoval might have a hand in unearthing. But the man he purged of oysters at the beginning of the book has not yet passed out of the story and the reader feels instinctively he will be back with more plots and dangers.
The second book is just out so we won't have long to find out.
Ann Swinfen wears her learning lightly but there is clearly rigorous research behind these novels. Not just the events of an eventful but well-known reign but the properties of herbs and roots as medicine, the types of code used in conspirators' letters and what happened to the Jews in Portugal. I imagine we will gradually piece together exactly the fate of Christoval's mother and sister and it won't be good.
The third book, The Portuguese Affair, will be out before summer is over.
Ann Swinfen's website