Gripping narrative: appealing central character
What a great read! I’ve so enjoyed being transported into this sixteenth century underworld of intrigue and double dealing. The central character, Christoval, is such an appealing character: feisty, principled but oh so human. Then there’s Poley, the smiling villain, whom we think has been safely removed as a threat only to reappear in the final lines as the compelling ‘hook’ for the next book!
This has got to be a winner. It’s got all the ingredients. I can see it making a wonderful BBC serialised historical drama.
Historical drama but with a number of fascinating strands interweaving throughout the narrative. Highly recommended.
Exploring Elizabeth Ethics – a Good Read!
I have to say, this novel came out totally different than I was expecting…in a very good way! One doesn’t often see a story centering around the mysterious and slightly disconcerting spy network of Sir Francis Walsingham, so I was curious about this shadow world. Our protagonist, Christoval Alvarez, possesses enough secrets and talent to pave the way for any aspiring spymaster, if so desired. But Christoval, nicknamed Kit, really prefers the medical practice and is drawn unwillingly into Walsingham’s service.
This story takes place during the trying times when the catholic Mary Queen of Scots plots to be freed from prison and take her place at the head of a religious movement against Queen Elizabeth. The fears of the English were very real, and Walsingham shows us a surprisingly human side when he attempts to justify the tactics of Elizabeth’s spy network. He paints the horrors of France’s St. Bartholomew Day’s Massacre and demonstrates a sincere conviction that the same fate threatens England. His passion convinces Kit to stay with the program despite the ethical dilemma of entrapping the conspirators—some of whom seem undeserving of their fate. At least on the surface, that is. And this juxtaposition of seeming vs. reality runs throughout the book, making for a lively exploration of the concept “the end justifies the means”. The immediate plot against the Queen is conclusively foiled, but Kit continues to fret, feeling threatened and fearing exposure. I suspect the second volume will drag us even deeper into this curious would of contradictions, and give poor Kit more stuff to worry about.
The Secret World of Christoval Alvarez
What a delight to read a new book by a favourite author, especially when it’s the first of a series. A fascinating story, meticulously researched and skilfully narrated, with a host of well-drawn characters, including a very sympathetic protagonist. I can’t wait for the next instalment!
As if two HUGE secrets were not enough
. . . Christoval Alvarez, a 16-year-old Jew professing Christianity and a girl Caterina disguised as a man, becomes a code-breaker and sometimes spy working for Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth I’s spymaster, all this in addition to her life’s work as a doctor to the poor at St. Bartholomew’s hospital in 1586 London. Unwillingly, but effectively, she takes on roles that Sir Francis adds to her responsibilities working with Walsingham’s master code-breaker Thomas Phelippes. Kit, as her father, Dr. Baltasar Alvarez calls her in public, also meets Simon, one of the teenage boys playing women’s roles in the plays produced by James Burbage at his Theatre in Southwark on the southern side of London. So, there are disguises all around. All the Marranos that worship in the Protestant church on Sunday and the house of a Jew on Friday nights have to disguise their true beliefs, the same as the Catholics who go to Protestant services on Sunday mornings and secretly attend Mass in the basement of a home on Sunday evening. Spying and disguises all around! The Alvarezes have survived the Spanish occupation of their home country Portugal, but had fled to England when Caterina was 12, disguising her as a boy to preserve her from rape. How will Caterina/Christoval/Kit survive in this maelstrom after an unprincipled rogue discovers both her secrets? Ah, Ann, you’ve created a great character here – fearful, intelligent, and resourceful – to guide us through the first of The Chronicles of Christoval Alvarez.
– Online Review
A Fascinating Peek into the Life of Old London
A fascinating peek into the life of old London, so well described that I could smell every foul odour, see the dilapidated buildings, and understand the customs of various groups thrown together by chance.
Edge of the seat tension set me worrying about young Kit’s secret, especially when she comes to the aid of a worldly man with a harmful glint in his eyes. Throughout the novel, the environment kept me riveted to the era. And, I never knew when the brilliant Kit would be found out in her masquerade as a youth. What an adventure. Any girl would love to have Kit’s skill, her knowledge as a doctor, her ability to play instruments, and to decipher codes in one of the most dangerous times in England. This novel has it all.
– Online Review
This is a wonderful read that gives a great insight into the tense time period of Elizabethan England when Mary Queen of Scots was held in custody. Christoval is Jewish and has escaped the Portuguese Inquisition and has settled in England with her father a former professor and medical doctor. Under her father’s protection she is posing as a young boy and helps her father in St Barts hospital until she is called upon to decipher encoded letters by Walsingham’s men. The premise and the story are well told and it contains plenty of the flavour of the time. Thoroughly enjoyable and I look forward to reading the next one in the series.
– Online Review
Great New Protagonist to Follow in the Steps of Shardlake and Bartholomew!
What a fantastic start to a series of books featuring a new protagonist. If you’re a lover of historical fiction this is for you. Wonderfully atmospheric of the Elizabethan era, full of factual history without being dry or boring. After finishing it, I went straight to 2 in the series, am currently reading 3 and have just downloaded 4.
– Online Review
A Brilliant Read
The year is 1586, Queen Elizabeth I is on the throne and there are plots afoot to replace her with Queen Mary, her sister. The Alvarez family came to London four years ago as refugees from Portugal. Christoval is working as a trainee physician with his father in a London hospital, living in a house supplied by the hospital.
The story starts in the winter and the author describes the poor living conditions, even sitting in my centrally heated living room I was shivering the description was that good.
A love of helping people medically combined with a love of mathematics and music leads this brainy youngster in to a position of secrecy after being brought to Marshalsea prison, when his father is not available, to help someone who is sick. The prisoner is a privileged person but even so it is a harrowing experience for Christoval who is so thankful not to be incarcerated himself.
“The cold London fog, tainted with the smoke of many fires and the sewer scent of the river, seemed pure after the smell of human misery that filled the Marshalsea. I realised that all the while we had been inside the prison; my heart had been struggling like a pigeon trapped in a chimney. Only now did it steady and slow.”
Now he finds he is helping break codes and his adventures are only just beginning.
The author brings in great historical detail of the time, political and social aspects of the time are well described, including the theatrical profession which is a nice diversion. Every page turned or every click of the Kindle is worth reading, there is no page that you want to skip.
This is the first in a series. I look forward to reading the rest of the books.
– Online Review