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Having successfully reanimated Shakespeare's day in her debut, Nicholas Cooke (1993), Cowell comes up well short of the mark in this sequel--an attempt to convey the turbulence of London life in the years leading up to the English Civil War. Nicholas Cooke is again in the thick of things, this time as a newly appointed priest and self-sacrificing physician who in 1617 befriends young Thomas Wentworth, destined to become King Charles's right-hand man. At first Nick and Tom are the closest of comrades: They share confidences and dreams, joining with other scientifically minded men, among them William Harvey, the King's physician, to discuss matters of science. Nick pursues his research into magnifying lenses as assiduously as Tom courts favor from the King, but Tom proves more successful initially. Appointed to increasingly influential positions, he gains in prominence while he loses in private life--his first two wives die in their prime. Meanwhile, Nick for his part overcomes a reluctance to remarry when he meets his match in brainy beauty Cecilia, but their harmonious union turns sour when he learns that a mutual attraction between her and Tom gave rise to a quick coupling as he lay grieving over the death of Wife #2. The rupture mends in time, even as the split between King and Puritan Parliament widens; when the King's effort to subdue the unruly Scots fails, Tom is picked by both parties as the fall guy. Matters only worsen after his beheading, however, so that when London goes over to the Puritans, loyal royalists Nick and Cecilia are first isolated and then assaulted, forcing them to flee to France. With complex relations given short shrift and Nick's mental anguishing endlessly circular--to wed or not to wed, to forgive or not to forgive, etc.--a sequel that's both shallow and leaden, with little of its predecessor's more innocent charms.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1995
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Norton