Two other books I have completed are neither of them alternatives to the Man Booker Longlist. Tracy Borman‘s first novel, The King’s Witch is possibly the start of an historical trilogy and Red Sparrow is a spy story.
Jason Matthews, the author of Red Sparrow, was once in the CIA, so like Ian Fleming and John le Carré, he writes about something he knows intimately: spying against the Russians. The Cold War while technically over, continues to fascinate readers and writers alike. This book is set in present day Russia and comes with glowing recommendations from various sources. It is American, unlike the other two authors cited. The story is gripping and the book an absolute page turner. A riveting novel, for me it slightly disappoints because there is an element of magic involved.
One of the main characters, the eponymous heroine, is a synesthete – this is a relatively rare condition in which the person emotionally sees and feels everything in colour, Domenika however, is an extreme case and can also “see” personal auras, which gives away the moods and feelings of the people she is with. And here is my problem – whether or not such a condition exists, in a spy novel this capacity becomes part of the toolkit and for me that makes it magical.
Everything else is as one would hope: suspenseful, alarming and first rate. And there is another novel to follow this one, and naturally a major motion picture to be released!
The King’s Witch [hopefully the first of three novels, which is suggested in one of the tributes] is set just at the point at which Elizabeth I dies and James I of England and VI Scotland arrives on the throne of England.
As history relates, this was a difficult time for Catholics and for healers. James had a phobia about both and many, many innocent women died as a result of his obsession with witchcraft, and the machinations of his sycophantic disciple, Robert Cecil, eventually created Baron, Earl of Salisbury as a reward for delivering both Catholics and witches to the evils of torture, burning and disembowelment.
Frances Gorges ( e pronounced as in Ganges) is a young woman, a herbalist and daughter to two secret Catholics. Longford Castle in Wiltshire is their family home, still standing and now owned by the Pleydell-Bouverie family. She becomes, against her wishes, companion to Elizabeth, the daughter of James I and Anne of Denmark, but she is caught up in the web of fear, conspiracy, suspicion and licentiousness that dominates James I’s court.
Tracy Borman has filled in the gaps of this remarkable story, with a believable ingenuity. The characters all exist in the historical sense, quite how strong and to what extent their relationships follow exactly this pattern, is part of the craft of historical fiction writing. Like Hilary Mantel, the research is thorough, the inspiration and imagination still abides by certain rules, but expands and elaborates for the enormous benefit of the readers