Most everyone is familiar with Diana Norman’s Makepeace Hedley trilogy starting with A Catch of Consequence, as well as the Mistress of the Art of Death series she writes under the name Ariana Franklin, but how many of you are familiar with her older books? I’d been wanting to read this one for ages but the price was not right and then I finally got lucky and Suzanne over at HFO gave away her extra copy.
It’s 1664 and Puritan Penitence Hurd arrives from America armed with nothing but her faith, a bag filled with wampum and tobacco and the address of her long lost aunt. The address takes her to the Cock and Pie on Dog Street, a brothel with a Madame who goes by the moniker of “Her Ladyship”. Told that her aunt is long gone and most likely dead and with no where else to go Penitence accepts a position as seamstress as Her Ladyship is surprisingly reluctant to allow her to whore like the others. Plague soon breaks out and all on Dog Street are quarantined in their homes to catch it and die or survive the forty days and be freed. Penitence’s room is across the way from room rented by the mysterious Henry King and they strike up a strange friendship as Henry teaches her to use The Vizard Mask to become someone else and thus lose her terrible stutter As the plague loosens its hold Henry and Penitence share one night of passion before he gains his freedom and disappears from her life.
Fate has a few unfortunate surprises for Penitence (pregnancy, Newgate, illegal pamphlet printing to name a few) and many times the only way to get past it is the oldest way in the world, but she will do anything to keep her independence. Once she sees the glitter and magic of the King’s Theater she is determined to beat the odds and make it – although when she crosses one of King Charles’ rowdy noblemen and he strikes back she’s willing to give up her freedom for royal protection (no it’s not who you are thinking it is). As she settles into a safe, albeit boring life with her royal protector, Penitence gets a shock when Henry King once again drops into her life and his name is not Henry King…….
That’s as far as I’m going, if you want to know more then read it for yourself. Penitence’s story begins just before the Great Plague of London through to the Duke of Monmouth’s rebellion and it’s aftermath to the coronation of William and Mary. Fans of Charles Stuart be warned, he does not come off looking too pretty in this one, he’s portrayed at his rutting, double dealing worst here.
At times very witty and bawdy with lots of laugh out loud moments that make this a fast fun read, but there are also some very serious moments as well – keeping her son hidden and to safety after the failed Monmouth rebellion will have you on the edge of your seat, as well as the descriptions of the Bloody Assizes after the failed rebellion. That said there are times when the pace dropped off and got a bit tedious (the plague went on waaaaaay too long, as well as that last bit at the end trying to get ______ buried in Poet’s corner *yawn*). Even with the flaws I enjoyed it a lot, and most especially when Penitence and Henry were in the same room – some of the best banter I’ve come across in a long time. 4/5 stars.