Set in various parts of Europe in the 16th century
Sir Edward Latham, middle-grade courtier is torn between his adherence to his faith (Catholic) and his loyalty to Queen Elizabeth (Protestant). His answer to this dilemma is to accept his cousin, Lord Darnley’s invitation to go to Scotland and serve his wife Mary, Queen of Scots (Catholic). After the murder of her husband, Mary sends him to the Duc de Guise in France to raise funds for her. Latham becomes a liaison between Guise and the Spanish Ambassador and eventually ends up in Spanish service as a spy. This career takes him to other countries, the most interesting of which is a glimpse into the Divine Porte, where he takes a Turkish lover (Islamic) and learns that different faiths can live in harmony.
The best of the supporting characters are his Turkish lover and his sidekick/agent in Lisbon, both of whom are interesting and unique. The author does a credible job of capturing the two queens, Elizabeth and Mary, in cameos. As for Latham himself, he is a fully-fleshed character, (the author allows him to tremble in fear) but I just couldn’t warm to him. I’m not sure why, perhaps only because of his way of over-analysing things – even his love affairs – which is natural enough in a spy, I suppose.
Throughout the book, Latham struggles with his divided loyalties. After a number of spying assignments, he decides to return to England and offer his services as a double agent and hope that in the near future, Catholics will be granted the right to worship openly.
There is a great deal to like in this book. The author’s knowledge of war, weapons and deployment is sufficient to lend authenticity. I particularly enjoyed reading about ‘Hellburners’. I suspected they were a fiction of the author, but a Google search informed me that they were real and used as the author described. It’s not all derring-do. It’s a story well-told and the dialogue, which can be confusing at times, has a particular ‘zing’ to it.
Recommended for those who like stories of war and the religious turmoil of the 16th century.