As the Great Fire burns the heart of London in 1666, political manipulators and religious fundamentalists struggle behind the scenes for control of the kingdom.
With Charles I beheaded and Oliver Cromwell in his grave, King Charles II has claimed the throne. Now his reign is threatened by unrepentant republicans, the most radical being the Fifth Monarchists who want a Puritan theocracy with King Jesus as ruler. Trapped in these shenanigans are Catherine “Cat” Lovett, whose father fought against Charles I, and James Marwood, whose father, now pardoned, followed Cromwell. While seeking her father in the aftermath of the fire, Cat lives with her Alderley cousins, who resent and exploit her. Meantime Marwood has been extorted into working for Whitehall by a shadowy figure he knows as Williamson, a man who apparently has significant influence with the king, Privy Council, and Common Council. Williamson demands Marwood find Cat’s father, still a threat. Soon Cat and Marwood find themselves in danger. Taylor's (The Silent Boy, 2015, etc.) characterizations are distinctive, with Marwood cautious, constantly worried his physically weak and senile father will be returned to prison; and Cat fascinated by architecture, pushing against social barriers to become assistant to Master Hakesby, an artist rendering Christopher Wren’s plans to rebuild St. Paul’s Cathedral. Taylor is marvelous at replicating a historical world that might otherwise be relegated to dusty history books, especially through his renditions of the era’s arch speech and his approach to class and status. Additionally, when a character remarks after an assault that “it was well known that young women were lascivious creatures,” Taylor again shows his talent for adding depth by weaving in examples of the historical subjugation and oppression of women. It’s worth noting that these fascinating minutiae interlaced into the narrative have no negative effect on focus or pace.
Excellent historical fiction.