The novel begins in 1558 with Queen Mary on the throne. Ned Willard returns to Kingsbridge after a year in Calais to find that Margery, the girl he loves is engaged to the local Earl’s son. Ned doesn’t stand a chance, he is a commoner and a protestant.
When Ned’s family is financially ruined by Margery’s father, Ned goes to work for Queen Elizabeth as a spy. This places him in a good position when she becomes queen.
Over the course of the 750 page novel (covering about 50 years), battles between the Catholics and Protestants in England continue. France goes through a number of Kings and varying degrees of tolerance towards Protestants. Spain fights France, the Netherlands and England. We meet Sylvie, a French Protestant trying to spread her religion in France and Pierre, a French ultra-Catholic spy. We also learn about the various plots to try to brings Mary Stuart to the English throne.
Throughout the story Ned and Margery continue to love each other.
While the novel was very good, it just didn’t have the same impact as the other Kingsbridge novels. The history of the period is well documented and Ken Follett has written an excellent historical novel, but in some ways the history constrained the story. We were all over Europe living the history rather than living the life of Kingsbridge.
In this novel, Kingsbridge is just another place. When this novel was first announced I was looking forward to once again touching the stones of Kingsbridge Cathedral, that just didn’t happen.
Still, this was a good Elizabethan historical novel.
What’s next? The Mayflower has just set sail, so we may be heading to the new world.