O frabjous day! Here we are on horseback again, galloping ventre a terre over the Debateable Lands between England and Scotland circa 1592. Yes, Sir Robert Carey returns for a seventh glorious outing, and I am delighted to report that this time we get to spend some quality time with Elizabeth Widdrington, Sir Robert’s love. The book begins on the Scottish side of the border with the murder of a minister and the rape of his wife, heavily pregnant with their first child. She finds her way to her friend, Elizabeth, in England, and Elizabeth, in spite of the inevitable repercussions from her abusive but for the moment conveniently absent husband, rides off to find the killers, if she can. In so doing she puts herself most grievously at risk from far too many people far too eager to make a buck off the kidnapping and murder of an English noblewoman on the wrong side of this very fraught and fluid border.
There is plenty of action here (Elizabeth herself kicks ass! Squee!), and as always the scene Chisholm sets is a veritable time travel portal you step through the instant you turn to the first page
It was surprising and the older one thought a little shocking that there were so many kirks, and not all of them burnt or in ruins like in the Low countries. Some old Catholic churches had been torn down and a new one put up, but more often they were just altered with the heads of the saints knocked off and the paintings whitewashed. Not every village had a kirk, by a long way, but a lot did.
Find me a better description of post-Reformation Scotland, do, but what I found most fascinating was Elizabeth’s inner dialogue over her situation. We get to see her first meeting with Sir Robert
Their eyes had met. Their bodies had known their business and kept a distance, but their eyes…
She is married to a man she doesn’t love who positively hates her and delights in showing her how much with his fists (and a nice reveal as to why). She is in love with Sir Robert (as who isn’t) and he loves her, too, but she is an honorable woman and she won’t cheat. She does have some revolutionary thoughts on women and society and religion that are wonderfully revealing of that time and place and even more revealing of her own intelligence. She is a worthy match for Sir Robert.
And of course there is that wonderful Chisholm voice, as in
She had liked Jamie Burn; he was a good man, perhaps a little hot tempered, perhaps a little intolerant, but he had started a school for the children of the village and his sermons were only an hour long.
“…There’s a street called Cheapside where they have shops with great plates and goblets and bowls of gold and siller in the windows and nought but a couple of bullyboys and some bars to keep them.”
”Where’s London exactly?” asked Bangtail, with the slitty eyed look of a Graham with a plan.
There was nothing wrong with killing somebody for money, of course, but killing one of your own surname for an outsider? That was disgraceful.
Sergeant Henry Dodd is back
And moreover the moon was behind more clouds making the night pitchblack, so Dodd sighed, brought the hobbies into the shelter so no one would ask why they were there and rolled himself up in his cloak across the door opening and hoped no one would wake him because burying people took time and was a lot of effort.
and meet Mr. Anricks, a tooth drawer and a pursuivant (aka spy) for Sir Robert Cecil, and Young Henry with his unfortunate spots, and all the boys in Minister Burn’s choir, especially little Jimmy Tait. The book finishes with a marvelous set piece of derring-do involving enough arms and ammunition for the siege of Stalingrad, and the last line will leave you with your heart in your mouth. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil, but oh! I can’t wait for Number 8.