Continuing saga of a lady-in-waiting under constant suspicion in the witch-baiting court of James I.
The inaugural volume of Borman’s trilogy (The King's Witch, 2018) ended as Lady Frances, who was involved in the failed Powder Treason plot against King James, fled back to her family estate, Longford, after Tom Wintour, a co-conspirator, was executed along with Guy Fawkes and others. Volume 2 finds Frances, pregnant by and in mourning for Wintour, accepting, under pressure from her scheming brother, Edward, the marriage proposal of Sir Thomas Tyringham, King James’ master of hounds. The two agree that the marriage will remain platonic, and when her son, George, is born, Sir Thomas assumes paternity. The remnants of the papist conspiracy still hoping to dethrone rabid Protestant James once again tap Frances for help. She is urged to return to the service of Princess Elizabeth and encourage a match with a Catholic prince. She also becomes reluctantly embroiled in a plot launched by Sir Walter Raleigh, from his luxurious Tower cell, to advance competing claims to the throne. As Wintour’s memory fades, Frances is increasingly attracted to her husband. Initially, Frances is again the passive observer, always in jeopardy from those longing to see her ensnared anew by James’ anti-witch frenzy—including Elizabeth’s beloved brother Henry, Prince of Wales, and Frances’ own brother. When her chief persecutor, Lord Cecil, requires her services as a healer and surgeon, détente but no true security results. Witchcraft prosecutions mostly benefit the male medical profession, with its dubious treatments, by targeting female wise-women, healers, and herbalists like Frances, whose M.O. is truly “First do no harm.” This message is powerfully brought home when Frances, risking arrest, helps Thomas recover from severe injuries—the ministrations of the king’s physicians would have killed him. After a slow start, the pages turn briskly, apace with Frances’ increasing bravery. Surprising revelations and a cliffhanger prepare us for Volume 3.
As Borman’s protagonist grows a spine, she’s starting to grow on us.