YOU always open the first of a promised historical series with pleasurable excitement, particularly if the protagonist is slightly unusual.
It’s 1793, and the Reign of Terror is casting a shadow over France. Thomas Pryce, the new Vicar of Deal, is torn from his parish duties to find his French wife’s parents, missing in Brittany. He witnesses her father’s brutal execution and, while hunting for her mother, is caught up in a race against time to thwart the plans of a sinister secret society that is aiming to assassinate the British King, George.
Small publishers are greatly to be encouraged, but the whole book could have done with a good edit. There are spelling mistakes, misused words, and tooth-jarring anachronisms. An earl’s daughter in the 1790s would surely never have greeted a visitor with “Pleased to meet you, I’m sure.”
Against that, there is the fact that the book is fast-moving and extremely well plotted with plenty of action, though you have to suspend your disbelief a bit. It’s unlikely that the vicar would get away with being disguised as a bald man 30 years his senior. The gripping balloon ride across the Channel recalls Jules Verne, though Verne never mentioned lightening the load by urinating in a bottle and throwing it over the side.
More importantly, the central character is intriguing. Thomas is troubled by the contradiction between being a spy and being a cleric, and finds that the answer is that good men must act to stop evil from flourishing, and that the price of freedom is the duplicity that his vocation forbids. We end with his involvement in the creation of a Secret Service, with spies drawn from an Oxford college. Some things don’t change.
If the authors can be a little more careful all round, this will be a very good series.
Fiona Hook is a writer and EFL teacher.
The Fate of Kings (The Thomas Pryce series)
Mark Stibbe and G. P. Taylor
Malcolm Down Publishing £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9
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