The final installment of Borman’s lively trilogy—begun in The King’s Witch (2018) and The Devil’s Slave (2019)—about a secretly Catholic woman embedded in the treacherous court of King James I.
Frances, now mother of two sons, has again left her country retreat for James’ court, this time due to her own mixed concern and longing for her husband, Sir Thomas Tyringham, whose duties as master of buckhounds keep him locked into the busy royal hunting schedule. At court, excitement mounts thanks to an element the first two volumes of this series lacked: a truly diabolical antagonist. Frances is not exactly welcome at court—in fact, ladies-in-waiting have no function since Queen Anne now lives apart from the king. James’ closest and most powerful advisers are now his male “favourites”—and the newest and most virulently scheming of these is George Villiers. Thanks to his angelic looks, seductive charm, and complete lack of scruples, Villiers is soon the king’s de facto consort, garnering the Order of the Garter and a dukedom along the way. Villiers is vicious to anyone in that way, including Thomas, whose work life Villiers, as master of horse, makes miserable—he is the ultimate bad boss. Villiers is also responsible for the loss of Frances’ pregnancy when he deliberately causes her to fall. Despite this, and Villiers’ threats to leverage her deepest secrets against her, Frances seems remarkably slow to anger, and the lengthy timeline dilutes the conflict—the action here spans 14 years. Also straining belief is the number of occasions Frances stumbles, unobserved, upon Villiers’ depraved assignations. Frances’ overriding aim is to restore Catholicism to England: In this she is joined by other closet Catholics, including the crown prince, Charles, and Kate, an heiress whom Villiers will stop at nothing, literally, to wed for her money. Scenes starring Villiers come alive as the other characters cope, ineffectually and overcautiously, with the viper in their midst.
Entertaining and delicious Stuart-era scandalmongering.
Pub Date: yesterday
Page Count: 480
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly
Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020