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Carpe Librum

Bookish conversation with author Samantha Wilcoxson.


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Historical Novel Society

Sacred Treason by James Forrester

Sacred Treason - James Forrester

This novel was suggested to me by several people as a good follow up to C J Sansom's Shardlake series. Though this takes place later, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, there are some notable similarities.

Our hero in Sacred Treason is a 40-something herald, William Harley Clarenceux King of Arms. He turns out to be as intelligent and surprisingly adventurous as everyone's favorite hunchback lawyer. Unlike Matthew, Clarenceux has a wife and children that he must concern himself about and does nothing to invite the drama that he finds himself in the middle of.

There are similarities in the writing styles of Sansom and Forrester (who is really historian Ian Mortimer). The Elizabethan age is vividly brought to life, sometimes in excessive detail. His expertise of the era is evident throughout the novel. Both authors bravely take on the religious conflicts of the Tudor dynasty and realistically characterize those who are Catholics and reformers.

Some significant differences also exist. Forrester's story is darker, with several people undergoing torture and abuse by the Queen's men. I didn't mind this because I appreciate a realistic look at Elizabeth's reign. While we are supposed to be convinced that this glorious virgin queen led the country to unprecedented peace, she was simply more subtle than her father in seeking out her enemies and ridding herself of them.

The characters and settings in this novel were excellently done, but the mystery became too convoluted and, in the end, pointless. It is difficult to write about a supposed attempt at revolution and stay within historical fact, which makes it difficult for this story to do anything other than fizzle out.

The plot that Clarenceux falls into may have not been a 5-star adventure, but the writing style and recreation of the 16th century were stunning enough to inspire me to continue with the series' second novel, The Roots of Betrayal.


I read this as the monthly read for More Historical than Fiction. Join us for next month's read!