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Posts Tagged ‘Roundheads and Cavaliers Series’

(Roundheads and Cavaliers #4)

Genre: Historical Fiction

Cover Blurb (Amazon)

Still tied to his desk in the Intelligence Office, Colonel Eden Maxwell has become increasingly disenchanted with both Oliver Cromwell and his own daily existence; and with the advent of new Royalist conspiracies, he despairs of ever getting away. Then a brick hurled through the window of a small workshop sets in motion a new and unexpected chain of events. After all, who would want to hurt Lydia Neville – a young widow, giving work and self-respect to maimed war veterans considered unemployable elsewhere? But when the assaults in Duck Lane escalate, threatening the life and remaining limbs of some of Eden’s former troopers, finding the culprit becomes a personal crusade.

At their first meeting, Lydia finds Colonel Maxwell annoying; by their second, having discovered that he had arrested and questioned her brother in connection with the Ship Tavern Plot, she mistrusts his motives. On the other hand, it swiftly becomes plain that she needs his help … and has difficulty resisting his smile.

Solving the increasingly hazardous mystery surrounding Lydia is not Eden’s only task. Between plots to assassinate the Lord Protector and a rising in Scotland, he must also mend the fences within his own family and get to know his son. Life suddenly goes from mind-numbing boredom to frenetic complexity.

With reckless Cavaliers lurking around every corner and a government still struggling to find its way, Lords of Misrule is set against a time of national discontent and general failure. But readers of the previous books in the series can look forward to catching up with old friends as well as meeting new ones … while, against all the odds, Eden and Lydia find danger and reward in equal measure.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Set during the years 1653 to 1655, when Oliver Cromwell ruled as Lord Protector, Lords of Misrule is the fourth book in Stella Riley’s excellent Roundheads and Cavaliers series. As with the previous books, it is an absorbing and intelligently written story which effortlessly blends history, politics, mystery, danger and, of course, romance.

Eden Maxwell has been an important secondary character since he first appeared in The Black Madonna, when his wife’s betrayal had such a devastating affect on him. Garland 0f Straw saw Eden serving as a major in Cromwell’s New Model Army, but still unable to put the past behind him and frequently finding solace in a bottle. It took some straight talking from his commanding officer to make him realise that he risked throwing his military career down the drain. In The King’s Falcon Eden, now a colonel, had finally come to terms with what happened and events leave him free to find the happiness he truly deserves.

What I love about Eden is that he is such a flawed and complex character. Despite being a battle-hardened soldier, he is a man of honour and integrity, as his actions in The King’s Falcon, and his disenchantment with Cromwell and what he stands for, reveal. The pain and anger he felt discovering his wife’s infidelity was understandable, made all the more heart-breaking because it was the same day his beloved father was buried. The hurt and disillusionment ran so deep that he vowed never to marry again. It was sad to see him distancing himself from his family and especially his two children. He had become a virtual stranger to his son, Jude, and resented his daughter, Viola, because he knows she isn’t his child. It was heartwarming to watch Eden making a positive effort to break down the barriers he had built between himself and his children. Jude proves to be young man with a wise head on his shoulders and offers his father some sound advice when it comes to building bridges with Viola.

Lydia is independent, capable and stubborn, and I admire her refusal to be hounded into selling her charitable businesses by her late husband’s family. Her kindness and compassion is evident in her desire to provide gainful employment to war-widows and crippled ex-soldiers, regardless of which side they fought on. In doing so, she hopes to restore their self respect, and it’s clear that the men and women she helps adore her and would defend her without hesitation.

”If you ever need a rag-tag army to stand at your back, you can count on us.  All of us.”

It was refreshing to see Lydia’s late husband shown in a positive light, rather than an odious old lecher as so often happens. He was kind and always had her best interests at heart. She obviously loves her brother, Aubrey, and worries about him, although, at times, he seems totally irresponsible in his actions.

The romance was deliciously slow-building and watching Eden and Lydia gradually see each other in a new light and begin to fall in love was very satisfying.

As always, with Ms. Riley, the relationships between her male characters are so brilliantly written, especially the brotherly exchanges between Eden and Toby, and the close bond of friendship between Eden and Gabriel.

Ms. Riley’s books are so meticulously researched and watching the historical events unfold through the eyes of her characters brought the history to life, and made me care about the fate of these characters.

The mystery of who is threatening Lydia, and why, is well-plotted with plenty of action and danger, and the villain’s identity certainly came as a surprise.

There are some delightful moments of humour throughout the story and one of my particular favourites is the scene where Lydia pretends to be absent-minded when soldiers arrive to question her about her brother’s whereabouts. It is so funny.

Among the secondary characters are a number of familiar favourites from the previous books including Gabriel and Venetia Brandon, Phoebe Clifford, Venetia’s youngest sister, Sir Nicholas Austin and a cameo appearance from Ashley Peverell. I felt a lot of sympathy for Deborah but she was pragmatic enough to accept that there was no future for her with Eden. Toby was definitely a scene stealer and I loved the banter between him and Eden. A real charmer and ladies man on the surface, but not someone to be underestimated, especially in a life-threatening situation. Like so many other readers, I do hope that Toby gets his own book in the not too distant future.

I strongly recommend that you read the previous books in this series to get a full appreciation of Eden’s character, and his connection to the other recurring characters who appear in this book.

Another superbly written story from Stella Riley. I can highly recommend all the books in this excellent series.

Originally posted on Goodreads

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(Roundheads and Cavaliers #3)

Genre: Historical Fiction

Cover Blurb (Amazon):

A tale of war and witchcraft … plots and playhouses … love and loyalty.

Charles the Second’s attempt to reclaim his throne ends in a crushing defeat at Worcester. With only the clothes on their backs, Ashley Peverell and Francis Langley flee to Paris where Ashley, known to some as the Falcon, resumes his secret work for the King.

Beautiful and street-wise, Athenais de Galzain has risen from the slums of Paris to become the city’s leading actress … but along with success comes the attention of a powerful nobleman, accustomed to taking what he wants.

Ashley and Athenais are drawn together with the force of two stars colliding.
Ashley, lacking money and often forced to risk his life, has two priorities; to guard the King from a dastardly plot hatched in London … and to protect Athenais from the man who would destroy her. Both will test him to the limits.

The King’s Falcon follows the Cavaliers’ last crusade and poverty-stricken exile whilst taking us behind the scenes in the playhouse. There is danger, intrigue, romance … and more than one glimpse into darkness.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

The King’s Falcon, the third book in the excellent Roundheads and Cavaliers series, is everything I have come expect from Ms. Riley – a superbly written and totally absorbing story, which perfectly blends history, politics, intrigue, drama and romance.

For me, one of Ms. Riley’s greatest strengths lies in her ability to create multi-faceted and realistic characters. In The King’s Falcon, we have not just one but two male protagonists, and my response to Pauline’s question…

“I’ve rarely seen one man as pretty as that – let alone a pair.  So which took your fancy?”

would be that they are both sigh-worthy in their own way.

The outrageously good-looking Royalist agent, Ashley Peverell, made a brief appearance in Garland of Straw, but now we discover that behind his seemingly carefree nature and amiability lies a very different man. Most know him as a colonel in the Royalist army, but only a select few know him as the Falcon. His keen mind and ruthlessness have served him well in his covert work for the king, work that is often ‘neither honourable or pretty’ but necessary. Although Ashley doesn’t see himself as a man of honour and integrity, it’s clearly shown in his determination to protect Athenais, his unswerving loyalty to his friends, and his willingness to risk his life for the king.

When we were first introduced to Francis Langley in The Black Madonna, he was a charming, frivolous young man who preferred writing poetry to fighting. However, as a captain in the Royalist army (Garland of Straw), his experiences of war have given him maturity and a self-awareness, and his willingness to put his life on the line in the service of the king speaks volumes for his character. I have always had a soft spot for Francis and it was lovely to see him fulfil his true potential as a writer. I also loved his sharp, witty responses when talking to his sister, Celia, particularly as she’s not one of my favourite characters. Anyone who has read The Black Madonna will understand why.

The illegitimate daughter of a retired mercenary and a laundress, Athenais de Galzain was born Agnes Stott in a dingy back-street of Paris. It had taken her six long years of struggle, hard work, and a change of name, to forge a successful career in Théâtre du Marais, rising to become one of its leading actresses. I admire how she achieved her success not just because she was beautiful, but through sheer determination and natural talent. Unfortunately, she has caught the eye of the Marquis d’Auxerre, who is determined to make her his mistress. Athenais is pragmatic enough to know that, one day, such a step would be necessary to protect her career, but there is something about the Marquis that she finds unsettling.

I found Pauline Fleury such an interesting character. She had once enjoyed a dazzling acting career herself, until an accident left her with a scarred left cheek and a slight limp and she is now Athenais’ dresser and mentor. Beneath the prickly surface and forthrightness, she is clever and astute, and she is such a loyal, protective friend to Athenais. I like how supportive Pauline is of her protégé, never showing any jealousy of the younger woman’s success.

The two romances run concurrently but develop in very different ways. Ashley and Athenais have an instant attraction but, as an ex-soldier with little money and no prospects, who is frequently called upon to risk his life, Ashley knows he has nothing to offer Athenais and is determined to keep his distance while ensuring that Athenais is safe from the Marquis d’Auxerre. It’s not long before their all-consuming passion can no longer be denied, but dramatic events will test the strength of their relationship. Ms. Riley deals with a very difficult subject and handles it well. I could feel the deep emotional turmoil Athenais goes through and I love how Ashley allows her time to heal and shows such empathy, encouragement and patience.

I enjoyed seeing the slow building romance between Francis and Pauline. Francis is surprised to find that he has come to enjoy Pauline’s company and is forced to admit that the reason he had written his play was because he found her fascinating. He saw beyond her scarred face and limp to the attractive, intelligent and competent woman beneath. He even liked her sharp tongue. Although Pauline has feelings for Francis, she knows that nothing can come of it

Good-looking titled gentlemen didn’t belong with scarred, one-time actresses past their first blush.

Francis certainly has his work cut when it comes to persuading Pauline to marry him because she’s the most stubborn woman he has ever met. Slowly, but surely, he breaks down her defences, and I love how he tells her that her head, heart and spirit far outweigh her imperfections.

Eden Maxwell has been an important secondary character since he first appeared in The Black Madonna, when his wife’s betrayal had such a devastating affect on him. It was satisfying to see that he has finally come to terms with what happened, and events in The King’s Falcon leave him free to find the happiness he deserves in Lords of Misrule. He is also instrumental in saving the lives of two people.

Among the other secondary characters are…

– Sir Nicholas Austin, a Royalist captain, who is taken in by Eden after he loses an arm at the Battle of Worcester.

– Deborah Hart who is saved by Eden when she is falsely accused of being a witch, and becomes his housekeeper and mistress.

– Celia Maxwell, Francis’s sister, who elicits Francis’s help in obtaining a divorce from Eden.

– Jem Barker, Ashley’s loyal servant and a former highwayman.

– The evil Marquis d’Auxerre who, I’m pleased to say, meets a suitable end.

Like the first two books in this series, The King’s Falcon is rich in period detail, whether it be the bloody Battle of Worcester, the unjust witches trials, the behind the scenes workings of the Théâtre du Marais, the Fronde in Paris, or the plight of the exiled Royalists in Paris, Ms. Riley seamlessly blends fact and fiction, creating a strong sense of time and place. Charles II, the Duke of Buckingham, and Cyrano de Bergerac are among the real people in the story, but the fictional characters are so well drawn that it was difficult to distinguish the real from the fictional. The various plot twists and turns are skilfully handled culminating in an exciting conclusion.

Another superb book from Stella Riley. Highly recommended.

Originally posted on Goodreads

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(Roundheads and Cavaliers #2)

Genre: Historical Fiction

Cover Blurb (Amazon):

The marriage of a well-bred Royalist lady and an illegitimate Roundhead Colonel is less a match made in heaven than a union doomed to hell. Unfortunately, Sir Robert Brandon’s last will and testament leaves Venetia Clifford and Gabriel Brandon with little choice in the matter – deeply though they both resent it.

Their tempestuous relationship is reflected in the events buffeting the nation as England slides into a second Civil War. While Gabriel continues to serve in the New Model Army, Venetia engages in clandestine activities on behalf of the King; and both their lives are complicated still further when Gabriel’s half-brother – to whom Venetia was formerly betrothed – returns from exile.

While the Army and Parliament argue over the fate of the King, Gabriel realises that he has a dangerous enemy. And as events gather pace, bringing the King to trial, the tangled web of danger and deceit surrounding both Gabriel and Venetia slowly tightens its grip.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Set against the turbulent events leading up to the trial and execution of Charles I (1648 to 1649), Garland of Straw is the second book in Stella Riley’s Roundheads and Cavaliers series. Once again, I was treated to an intelligently written and engrossing story which skillfully combines history, politics, intrigue, suspense, tragedy, and a stormy romance between a staunch Royalist lady and a Roundhead colonel.

I have loved everyone of Ms. Riley’s heroes, but Gabriel might just be my favourite. The illegitimate son of Sir Robert Brandon and raised by foster parents, I admire the way he has never let his illegitimacy define who he is. He has forged a career for himself as a professional soldier, fighting in various European wars before returning to England to join Cromwell’s New Model Army. He is an honourable and principled man and, although initially sympathetic towards the Parliamentary cause, witnessing the atrocities committed at Basing House has left him disillusioned. As events unfold, he is faced with some difficult, life-changing choices.

Venetia was a secondary character in The Black Madonna. As one of the Queen’s entourage, she enjoyed a carefree life at court. Engaged to Ellis Brandon, the man she loves, everything seemed perfect, but the war changed that. It claimed the lives of both her father and her eldest brother, while her other brother, Harry, and Ellis had gone into into exile. With no-one else in the family capable of running Ford Edge Manor, and keeping a roof over their heads, responsibility has fallen firmly on Venetia’s shoulders. I could understand how circumstances had led to Venetia becoming so hard and bitter, and how they coloured her initial attitude towards Gabriel.

Often I have read books where the hero and heroine dislike each other, but there is a strong, underlying attraction. This is certainly not the case with Gabriel and Venetia. From their first meeting at the reading of the will, their mutual animosity fairly drips off the page. However unpalatable, Gabriel and Venetia are forced to marry, and it promises to be a battle royal considering Venetia regards Gabriel as ‘a misbegotten bumpkin in an orange sash’ who is rude, callous and arrogant, while Gabriel sees Venetia as beautiful, but with ‘the tongue of a shrew, an expression that gives you frostbite and no manners worth mentioning.

Ms. Riley develops their relationship very slowly, which seemed realistic given the circumstances. The major change in their relationship comes when Venetia tends Gabriel after he is set upon and badly injured. They talk for the first time without the usual hostility and sarcasm and it was very satisfying to see respect, liking, trust and ultimately love steadily growing between them, even though there was a bump in the road, in the form of Ellis Brandon; but Venetia soon comes to see that Gabriel is ten times the man Ellis will ever be.

This was a very complex period in British history and I admire the way in which Ms. Riley seamlessly blends real-life events and personages with the lives of her fictional characters. The resulting realism it brings to the story made me truly care about the fate of these characters.

Bravo to Ms. Riley for keeping me clueless regarding the identity of the person responsible for the attempts on Gabriel’s life, until just before the harrowing climax.

There is a fascinating array of secondary characters, some familiar favourites and others new, including…

Walter (Wat) Larkin – Gabriel’s faithful servant and companion for 15 years, with ‘the nose of a bloodhound and the instincts of a ferret? 

Eden Maxwell (The Black Madonna) – Gabriel’s Major, who is still trying to drown his personal problems in a bottle.

Ellis Brandon, Gabriel’s half brother and Venetia’s fiancé, who is selfish, arrogant and a liar when it serves his interests.

Phoebe Clifford – Venetia’s youngest sister, ever the optimist, who immediately befriends Gabriel much to her (Venetia’s) displeasure.

Jack Morrell – Gabriel’s foster brother who is more like a real brother to him

Francis Langley (The Black Madonna) – an elegant Royalist, who would prefer writing poetry to fighting.

Handsome Captain Ashley Peverell, alias the Falcon, a Royalist spy.

Having read and loved A Splendid Defiance, it was wonderful to catch up with Captain Justin Ambrose (now a Colonel), his wife Abigail, and her younger brother, Samuel (Sam) Radford. Justine strikes up an unlikely friendship with Gabriel, while there is a secondary romance between Sam and Jack Morrell’s niece, Bryony.

Ms. Riley still manages to incorporate some much welcome humour into the story. For instance, I love the hilarious scene where Venetia is smuggling Frances Langley past guards on the bridge and passing him off as her drunken husband. Phoebe’s enthusiastic search for the Lacey Garland also brought a smile to my face.

A meticulously researched and engrossing story with fascinating characters, and an emotionally satisfying romance. Highly recommended.

Originally posted on Goodreads

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(Roundheads and Cavaliers #1)

Genre: Historical Fiction

Cover Blurb (Goodreads):

By the summer of 1639, England is sliding inexorably towards civil war, and the havoc of the times is reflected in the lives of the Maxwells of Thorne Ash.

Red-haired and independent of spirit, Kate Maxwell is determined not to let the coming conflict disrupt the lives of those she loves. During her father’s forced absence she vows to hold their home against marauding forces from both camps.

More threatening to her peace of mind than the actions of either the Parliamentarians or the Royalists is her growing attraction to the diabolically clever and irresistibly magnetic goldsmith and usurer, Luciano del Santi.

Hampered by the battling English, Luciano is fighting a fierce campaign close to his own heart – to avenge his father’s execution at the hands of false accusers and to repay the loan which has financed the venture. Failure will result in ruin, perhaps even death; but success will allow him to reclaim the Black Madonna – the carved obsidian symbol of his heritage and his vendetta…

♥♥♥♥♥♥

The turbulent years of the English Civil Wars, a time of tragic conflicts and divided loyalties, provides the dramatic backdrop for Stella Riley’s highly acclaimed Roundheads and Cavaliers series. Set in the period leading up to and during the First English Civil War (1639 to 1642), THE BLACK MADONNA, the first book in the series, is a masterful blend of history, politics, suspense, intrigue, revenge, and romance.

Ms. Riley’s characters are never one dimensional – to me they always feel like real people I have come to know and care about. I was immediately drawn into the lives of the Maxwell family – Richard, his wife, Dorothy, and their children, Eden, Kate, Amy and twins Tobias (Toby) and Tabitha. Seeing everything through their eyes gave an immediacy to the story.

I love Richard and Dorothy – they must surely win an award for being one of the most loving and devoted couples to grace the pages of a book. Richard, a Member of Parliament, is an honest and moderate man who wants what’s best for his country, but has no desire to take sides in the dispute between Parliament and the King. The safety of his family comes first, but as the country moves closer to civil war, there is no way to avoid taking sides.

Despite his parents’ efforts to dissuade him, Eden makes an ill-fated marriage to a Royalist. Kate is single-minded and often too outspoken, while coquettish Amy risks scandal, and Toby gets involved in some illicit goings on.

Richard sums it up perfectly…

’You know, Dorothy and I used to congratulate ourselves on having reared sensible children.  Now look at them.  Eden’s married to a selfish shrew; Amy had to be hustled to the altar before she could ruin herself; and I suspect that Toby is up to no good with son-in-law Geoffrey.  All I need now is for Tabitha to run off with a troupe of mummers or decide to take the veil and we’ll have a full set.’

I admire Ms. Riley’s ability to create unique and complex heroes like the enigmatic Luciano del Santi. He doesn’t immediately wear the cloak of a romantic hero, but Ms. Riley imbues him with a charisma that makes him irresistible. Now a wealthy master goldsmith and moneylender, Luciano came to England from Genoa 4 years ago to set up his own business, with a substantial loan from his uncle, Vittorio Falcieri. Luciano offered The Black Madonna, a simple obsidian figure, as surety for the loan. It has little monetary value, but has been revered by the Falcieri family for generations. If he does not pay the requisite interest on time each year and repay the capital after ten years, he stands to lose everything. Luciano is also on a mission to discover the identity of and seek revenge on the man who arranged for his father to be wrongly accused of treason for which he was executed. He is drawn into the lives of the Maxwell family when Richard and Eden rescue him from a viscous attack. I like how a unlikely but genuine friendship develops between Richard and Luciano. While others might despise him as a moneylender, Richard sees Luciano’s true worth.

The romance between Kate and Luciano is slow building, because they both try to deny the attraction, which leads to some rather cutting banter.

‘He must be a brave man.’
‘Who?’ she snapped.  And immediately regretted asking.
‘This suitor of yours.  Or doesn’t he know that you dip your tongue in vinegar every morning?’
‘No.  Why should I boast?  Some people dip theirs in hemlock.’


Kate tries to convince herself that what she feels for Luciano is no more than a passing fancy, while Luciano tries to push Kate away believing his desire to avenge his father could endanger her life. Ms. Riley does an excellent job of building the sexual tension, and when they finally admit their feelings for each other, it leads to a love scene that is both tender and sensual without being explicit.

Ms. Riley’s extensive research and knowledge of the time period is evident in her skillful and seamless blending of history and fiction into an engrossing story; sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish between the real characters and fictional ones. Luciano’s search for the man who arranged his father’s death provides some heart-stopping and heart-breaking moments, culminating in a nail biting climax during the final, bloody siege of Basing House, when Luciano confronts the man he’s seeking.

As always, there’s a fascinating and well drawn cast of secondary characters including –

Francis Langley – an elegant Royalist and Eden’s childhood friend

Celia Langley/Maxwell – Francis’s sister and Eden’s self-absorbed wife

Gianetta – Luciano’s bejewelled sister

Selim – his knife-wielding, Turk bodyguard

I enjoyed the brief appearance by Captain Justin Ambrose and a young Abigail Radford, who are the hero and heroine of A Splendid Defiance, set in 1644.

An engrossing story with fascinating characters and a meticulously researched historical setting. Highly recommended.


Originally posted on Goodreads

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The Black Madonna audiobook.jpg

(Roundheads and Cavaliers, #1)

 Genre:  Historical Fiction (17th Century – Genoa 1636 & 1646, English Civil Wars 1639-1645)

 Cover Blurb (Amazon):

As England slides into Civil War, master-goldsmith and money-lender, Luciano Falcieri del Santi embarks on his own hidden agenda.

A chance meeting one dark night results in an unlikely friendship with Member of Parliament, Richard Maxwell. Richard’s daughter, Kate – a spirited girl who vows to hold their home against both Cavalier and Roundhead – soon finds herself fighting an involuntary attraction to the clever, magnetic and diabolically beautiful Italian.

Hampered by the warring English and the quest itself growing daily more dangerous, Luciano begins to realise that his own life and that of everyone close to him rests on the knife-edge of success … for only success will permit him to reclaim the Black Madonna and offer his heart to the girl he loves.

From the machinations within Parliament to the last days of the King’s cause, The Black Madonna is an epic saga of passion and intrigue at a time when England was lost in a dark and bloody conflict.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

The Black Madonna is a sweeping, epic tale of love, betrayal, loyalty, intrigue, and a family’s determination to support each other throughout the bloody ravages of a civil war, into which their country has been plunged.

I loved every minute of this truly sumptuous and scintillating saga of triumph over adversity – firstly in the written word, and now in more than twenty-two glorious hours of audio, performed by the highly talented actor, Alex Wyndham.

As usual with this author, her characters are quite unique. Luciano Falcieri del Santi is an Italian master-goldsmith and usurer (money lender); he has imperfectly matched shoulders and a burning ambition to find out, not only the truth, but also to punish the men who, when he was only a boy of twelve, had perjured themselves in order to have his innocent father executed for treason in England.

He has worked hard to succeed at his craft and also has a natural flair for finance, which has enabled him to persuade his uncle to loan him a large amount of money. Luciano offers The Black Madonna as surety – a simple but serenely beautiful figurine, much treasured by Luciano’s family. It is all he has to bargain with, but such is the reverence with which the figurine is held that his uncle agrees.

Luciano’s occupation as a much despised money lender, his slight, but nevertheless fairly obvious, physical deformity, and his single minded and determined quest for revenge and justice would not immediately conjure up a romantic figure. But, somehow, in her usual inimitable way, Stella Riley has created just that – an enigmatic, brilliant and quite dazzlingly beautiful young man whom Kate Maxwell, much to her own initial disgust, is secretly in thrall to from their first meeting. She is fascinated to realise that he is the epitome of a painting of Lucifer, the fallen Angel, on the ceiling of her family’s chapel. Luciano dominates the story from the first page and eventually earns the friendship and trust of Richard Maxwell, an honourable and well-respected member of Charles the first’s doomed parliament, and the father of Kate and Eden, the two eldest Maxwell siblings, who figure predominately in this story.

It’s unnecessary to go into the politics and tragedies of the English Civil Wars in great depth in the review, because this talented historian and writer has done the hard work for us to enjoy. In fact, I am in awe of the daunting task she set herself when she began researching and writing this series more than twenty five years ago… without the benefit of the internet. Suffice to say that not only The Black Madonna but every book in this series, plus its companion A Splendid Defiance and The Marigold Chain, set in the Restoration period, are all masterpieces in their own right. Many of Stella Riley’s fictitious characters throughout the series make repeat appearances – some with stories of their own – such as Gabriel Brandon, Venetia Clifford, Eden Maxwell, Francis Langley and Justin Ambrose. So well-drawn and developed are these characters that they are almost indistinguishable from the nonfictional, historical military and political characters with whom they interact. Under the author’s clever hand, these nonfictional personalities are no longer just figures on canvases in art galleries or names in dusty archived records. Seen through the eyes of the author, they are living, breathing men who had difficult decisions to make and worries to contend with.

One thing Ms. Riley does particularly well is to show both sides of the argument in a fair and unbiased way. There was one particular conversation between two friends that jumped out at me. It clearly and succinctly explained how and why families and friends found themselves on opposing sides, and highlighted the sheer futility and difficulties faced by such families and friends in this situation. Eden Maxwell and Francis Langley have been friends since boyhood and discuss their differing beliefs on Parliament versus King. Neither allows their opinions to affect their long standing friendship but simply agree to differ. Obviously, once the first war begins in earnest, they do not actively pursue their friendship, although throughout the series, they occasionally meet up and continue to be friends. The two are also inextricably linked by Eden’s marriage to Francis’s sister, Celia, which in itself has its own problems, because she, like her brother, is a royalist. The tension in the Maxwell household, as the war gathers momentum, is tangible and has long reaching consequences for all of them.

The waters are further muddied by the differing religions of political leaders, officers and soldiers fighting on both sides. Complicated and difficult it may be to understand, but the author again explains the different reasons and factions in a way that can be understood by the layman. All in all, a mix of differing religious beliefs and fears only added to the almost impossible task of uniting a country and increased the problems of an already hopeless war which tore families and communities asunder.

Luciano relentlessly pursues his quarry, finding and dealing with each culprit in turn, until only one is left. At the same time, he is fighting a losing battle against his obvious love for Kate (aka Caterina) Maxwell, until eventually he can no longer deny his feelings, even though he fears his love may place her in danger.  The story hurtles towards its emotional and heart-rending culmination, an ending the author has plucked, in part, from the historic archives – the final falling of the long besieged Cavalier stronghold, Basing House – merciless, bloody and horrific- she cleverly intertwines it with the last piece of Luciano’s puzzle. In fact, the final 25% of the book, as all the threads come together, is truly nail-biting stuff. Stella Riley ratchets up the tension and emotion, drawing graphic pictures of the horrors of war to the point where one can almost smell the gunpowder and witness the horror and terror of the participants. At its centre is Luciano, his formidable Turkish man servant, Selim, his beloved Caterina, and the last man who must face Luciano’s reckoning.  Here I must add that, as much as I loved reading it, the narration by master-of-his-craft, Alex Wyndham, adds another dimension to an already fabulous book which, were it a play, would certainly earn a standing ovation.

Surely The Black Madonna must be an actor’s dream to perform – for perform it Mr. Wyndham does, with quite outstanding success. I can only imagine the challenges he faced with such a huge cast of characters of both sexes. Knowing this story well, having read it at least three times, I had pre-conceived ideas on how I thought the characters would sound, and I wasn’t disappointed. Luciano’s voice is ‘like warm silk’, to quote the author, and it’s at its silkiest best when he talks to his Caterina. Luciano has a multifaceted nature, one side of which – his inherent aloneness – I felt very keenly and Mr. Wyndham portrays this facet of his character with sensitivity. Okay, Luciano deliberately cultivates it in order to stay safe, and of course as a money lender was reviled by the very people who were in debt to him, and he had learnt to trust very few people. Nevertheless, at times, I felt sad for him. He shrouds himself in an aloofness and, on occasions, adopts a quiet, deadly insolence, which is reserved for those people he holds in contempt. Alex Wyndham captures the many facets of Luciano’s character to perfection; the subtle nuances of his moods – silky smooth, deadly dangerous and insolence.

There are far too many individuals to mention separately, but a few characters really stand out for me in Alex Wyndham’s portrayal of them.

  • Richard Maxwell – a quiet likeable man with oodles of integrity
  • Eden Maxwell – a no-nonsense career soldier who begins by being quietly happy with his lot but, as a result of betrayal, becomes embittered and morose, which shows in his voice
  • Celia Maxwell, Eden’s wife – a querulous and waspish woman who is easy to dislike
  • Francis Langley – the languid, long-haired, elegantly attired, devil-may-care, Cavalier officer, who would rather read poetry than go to war
  • Gianetta, Luciano’s little sister – highly strung, excitable and volatile
  • Finally the Irish Catholic patriot, Liam Aherne – quiet and stern but with a delightful, lilting Irish accent

These are only a handful of the diverse cast Alex Wyndham juggles with.

Each time I hear this performer, I wonder anew how on earth he’ll do it, but I’m never disappointed with his performance. A consummate and professional actor with a voice like ‘warm silk’, to quote the author again in her description of Luciano, but which also fits Alex Wyndham to a tee.

The Black Madonna is another triumph for Stella Riley and her narrator, Alex Wyndham. A magnificent blend of historical fiction and historical romance, with the emphasis on the thoroughly and accurately researched history. The plotting is first rate – intriguing and plausible, and the romance is slow developing – deep and abiding.

MY VERDICT: A heart-warming and romantic saga of family, love and war. Simply not to be missed!  We can only hold our breath and hope that Ms. Riley is able to have the rest of the series recorded. 

 

REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

NARRATION RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Roundheads and Cavaliers series (click on the book covers for more details):

 The Black Madonna (Roundheads and Cavaliers, #1) by Stella Riley Garland of Straw (Roundheads and Cavaliers, #2) by Stella Riley The King's Falcon (Roundheads and Cavaliers, #3) by Stella Riley Lords of Misrule (Roundheads and Cavaliers, #4) by Stella Riley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lords of Misrule

(Roundheads and Cavaliers, #4)

Genre: Historical Romance (17th Century – London 1653, 1654)

 Cover Blurb:

 Still tied to his desk in the Intelligence Office, Colonel Eden Maxwell has become increasingly disenchanted with both Oliver Cromwell and his own daily existence; and with the advent of new Royalist conspiracies, he despairs of ever getting away.

Then a brick hurled through the window of a small workshop sets in motion a new and unexpected chain of events. After all, who would want to hurt Lydia Neville – a young widow, giving work and self-respect to maimed war veterans considered unemployable elsewhere? But when the assaults in Duck Lane escalate, threatening the life and remaining limbs of some of Eden’s former troopers, finding the culprit becomes personal.

At their first meeting, Lydia finds Colonel Maxwell annoying; by their second, having discovered that he had arrested and questioned her brother in connection with the Ship Tavern Plot, she mistrusts his motives.  On the other hand, it swiftly becomes plain that she needs his help … and has difficulty resisting his smile.

Solving the increasingly hazardous mystery surrounding Lydia is not Eden’s only task.  Between plots to assassinate the Lord Protector and a rising in Scotland, he must also mend the fences within his own family and get to know his son. Life suddenly goes from mind-numbing boredom to frenetic complexity.

With reckless Cavaliers lurking around every corner and a government still struggling to find its way, Lords of Misrule is set against a time of national discontent and general failure. But readers of the previous books in the series can look forward to catching up with old friends as well as meeting new ones … while, against all the odds, Eden and Lydia find danger and reward in equal measure.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

It’s always difficult to come to a series of books part-way through, so when I knew I was going to review Lords of Misrule, I decided to quickly acquaint myself with some of the background information of the series and about the English Civil War, my knowledge of which was sketchy to say the least. I was advised to read The Black Madonna (first in the Roundheads and Cavaliers series) and was very glad I did, as it’s here that we first meet Eden Maxwell, who is the hero of Lords of Misrule.

Married young to a woman who was completely wrong for him, his early experience of love and marriage has left Eden deeply mistrustful, embittered and unable to show love to his son and resentful of the little girl he realises he did not father. He rarely returns home even though his wife disappears with her lover soon after discovery, and his continuing absence drives a wedge between himself and his family although it is not what he wishes. A decade later, older and wiser, he has vowed never to trust love and absolutely never to marry again. By now a confident and battle-scarred soldier, Eden is also a man who does not suffer fools or trust easily. I adored the tetchy, vulnerable, overprotective, charismatic character that Eden has become – and then there’s that devastating smile!

These are serious times and England has been in the grip of civil war for well over a decade. Families are split, the Country is short of money and the anointed King has been executed. Oliver Cromwell has been named Lord Protector – king in all but name – and parliament is attempting to bring some order to a divided country. Eden Maxwell has become a discontented and disenchanted man, and, owing to his inborn integrity and sense of justice, is finding himself frequently in sympathy with both sides. Employed as an Intelligence officer and code breaker at the Tower of London, Eden reports directly to Cromwell’s Secretary of State, John Thurloe. Eden is first and foremost a soldier, and having fought in and survived three civil wars, is not happy with his current role as paper pusher and glorified errand boy.

When a brick is hurled through a window of recently widowed Lydia Neville’s workshop in a seemingly random attack, she is thrown into the orbit of Colonel Eden Maxwell and he instantly becomes interested. Lydia, an entrepreneur and philanthropist, has continued with the work she began with her now deceased husband. They had intuitively recognised a need to provide opportunities for honest employment for wounded and disabled soldiers, casualties of both sides of the war, and also for the widows of soldiers who are left with families to care for. At first Lydia and Eden strike sparks off of each other. He is overbearing, cynical and dismissive while she is independent, feisty and not about to allow any man to control her or her actions. Worthy adversaries both, it isn’t long before their antipathy turns to reluctant attraction, drawn to each other firstly by their joint empathy for Lydia’s workforce and then by the threats and intimidation levelled at Lydia herself.

The challenge presented by the ever increasing threats to Lydia and her workforce is something that Eden relishes and embraces with enthusiasm, as well as bringing out his inborn desire to protect. The romance, which develops slowly over the entire story, sends shivers down the spine, but in Stella Riley’s inimitable style is never allowed to take-over, this being very much a historical romance with the emphasis on ‘historical’. Ms. Riley’s characters are superbly well drawn and they quickly become our friends. We love them, admire them, feel for them and worry for them. It’s something the author does incredibly well. She incorporates actual people, who lived and contributed to the past, but so well developed are her fictitious personalities, that it’s easy to forget which are historical and which are figments of her very fertile imagination.

Stella Riley’s story has encompassed everything; fantastically well researched and richly described historic detail, characters to love and swoon over and an incredibly well devised plot that had me guessing until the end. It’s intricate, plausible and intelligent, displaying her unique talent for ratcheting up the drama until we’re left gasping from the sheer ingenuity and thrill of it all. As is always the case with any story written by this author, the relationships between her characters, especially the men, are sensitively and tenderly developed; their camaraderie often moving but, at other times, extremely funny. Ms. Riley has a very dry wit and some of the scenes between Eden and his brother, Tobias, are especially touching and amusing in turns.

What a fascinating period the seventeenth century was, and since embarking on my Stella Riley binge, I am continuously asking myself how I could have failed to be interested in this vital period in English history. Ms. Riley’s scholarship is incredible; this is such a complicated period to get to grips with and her descriptions, knowledge and quite obvious love for it shines through. How can we, the reader, fail to be infected by this author’s hard work, enthusiasm, knowledge and outstanding writing skill?

MY VERDICT: I cannot recommend the Roundheads and Cavaliers series highly enough and fully intend to go back and read Garland of Straw and The King’s Falcon because they are not to be missed.


REVIEW RATING:  STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

Read May 2016

 

Roundheads and Cavaliers series to date (click on the book covers or more details):

The Black Madonna (Civil War, #1) by Stella Riley Garland of Straw (Civil War, #2) by Stella Riley The King's Falcon by Stella Riley Lords of Misrule by Stella Riley

**I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review. **

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