Book Review: Revenger by Rory Clements

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publishing Info: 2010 by John Murray (Publishers)

Pages: 414

Back Cover Summary:

1592. England and Spain are at war, yet an even greater threat lies closer to home.

Robert Cecil, Elizabeth’s cold but deadly young statesman, summons John Shakespeare. His mission: to find vital papers, now in the possession of the Earl of Essex.

Essex is the brightest star in the firmament, the Queen’s favourite. But when Shakespeare infiltrates his dissolute world he discovers not only that the Queen herself is in danger, but that he and his family are also a target.

Rory Clements’ Revenger is an enjoyable thriller of a historical romp that uses the premise of an Elizabethan spy as a way to stand out well in a saturated market.

The thriller genre, with the main character as a private spy, fits in very well with the Elizabethan setting. The setting of the court is a web of plots and tension, with many figures trying to boost their own interests to gain the Queen’s favour or to gain the throne for themselves. The streets of London are equally treacherous, as John Shakespeare (brother to the playwright) and his allies meet several unsavoury characters and sometimes the brutality and the hysteria translate well to the readers. However, there are occasions where I wish that the period could have been taken further in the description aspect – more often it feels like a lot of contextual information we are given comes straight from the characters’ mouths.

The most successful section of the novel, for me personally, is the final one hundred pages. The climax should be where the writing and narrative is at its peak but I have read several novels where the solution just feels a bit disappointing. Here, although the central antagonist could have been guessed from the first couple of appearances he makes in the books, the journey to get to him feels like a maze which, when revealed, feels suitable and worth following the plot threads for. The stakes were at their highest in the end chapters, with the family of John Shakespeare directly implicated in the machinations of the villain.

There were many plot threads to wade through, as the narrative of this feels like a proper detective narrative, with murder mysteries and a threat against the throne of England. However there are a couple of threads that, whilst they add to the historical context and wider picture of England in this era, didn’t really add too much to the overall product. I get that the writer included these to place the novel in an exact point in time but I feel like they could have been placed in another book to make their impact as much as their potential was. In a similar vein, the closing pages of the book felt more like an epilogue, one that went on for a few pages too long after the dramatic stand-off against the antagonist.

I must admit to picking this book up at random because I wanted to read more Historical Fiction in a different era than I have before. I believe that there are a few books prior to this in the series. Therefore, there were many references to past narrative events, some of which I didn’t understand because they were only half mentioned and then dropped straight after. It is my fault for not reading the first book in the series first but I have read a few books midway through a series that were more friendly to new readers.

Overall, this book has several high points. The author is very good at translating the darker side of human personality into the court scenes, where everyone has a secret to hide and plans to advance their rise through the ranks. The action scenes were also good when attention was paid to them, in particular the stand-off against the antagonist at the climax of the book. Before that there were a lot of plot threads to get through, some of which didn’t completely land, and there were also a lot of references to previous books to understand. I think I will try to read more of the John Shakespeare series, as it has some unique qualities.

Star Rating: ★★★☆☆


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