London, 1639. Thomas Tallant, a young spice merchant, returns from his travels to find his city in the throes of political upheaval.
A wealthy merchant is killed, then his partner falls to his death in the Tallant household. All fingers are pointed at Thomas as the culprit.
Meanwhile, Thomas is falling in love with clever, independent Elizabeth Seymour. With help from Thomas’ best friend, they fight to save Thomas from Newgate and the gallows.
SUMMARY – The 10-second review
Historic – 17C London – Highly readable/page turner – Political intrigue and murder mystery – Well written
Rags of Time – A Thomas Tallant Mystery is an action-packed and gripping murder mystery. It’s the first in what promises to be a very enjoyable series.
Historical fiction, but mostly fiction
Rags of Time is set in 1639-1640 to the backdrop of England before the Civil War, which pitted the supporters of King Charles I against the supporters of the Long Parliament (in other words, spoiler alert, just a few years before Cromwell and the Puritans kicked out the monarchy).
It’s an ideal book if you love atmospheric historical fiction but you’re not really a history buff. In fiction, historical or not, I like my politics in small, easy-to-swallow doses. Happily, this is what Rags of Time delivers. While politics are key to the plot, the reader is not overwhelmed (or bored) by too much detail about current events and people. Just enough to give a strong sense of time and place, and to explain the characters’ motivations, not so much that it feels like a textbook. This is not Hilary Mantel, and for me, it’s all the better for that. (That said, people more into history than I am may enjoy it too — I don’t know enough about the period to be a judge of its historical credentials.)
Independent, intelligent women
I do like a novel where women are portrayed well, particularly novels written by men. Even more so when it’s historical fiction but there’s no feeling of anachronism or patronization. Elizabeth is an astronomer, mathematician and a gambler: no swooning and ball gowns here! Thomas’ mother is also portrayed as a strong woman with a mind of her own. It depresses me somewhat that I feel the need to actually applaud this, in the 21st century, but feminism still has a long way to go, so credit where it’s due.
An imperfect hero
Thomas himself does not cut much of a swath; certainly not compared to Elizabeth or indeed his father. His father is clearly frustrated by Thomas’ naivety and lack of diplomacy and he has to repeatedly step in to cover for Thomas’ mistakes. Tom rather bumbles about, letting things happen to him, then jumping in to act impulsively without much care for consequences. I liked him all the more for it. He’s a very believable and likeable hero, or antihero. He has made stupid mistakes in the past and is trying to make amends. I think the author is providing space for Thomas to grow into his star role, and look forward to seeing how he evolves.
His character also goes some way to explaining the mystery, and fits in well with the reveal. Can’t say more than that without spoilers.
Stick with the 17C till Thomas returns
Apparently, book 2 of the Thomas Tallant series is due in March this year. I can’t wait!
Meanwhile, if you enjoy reading books set in the 17th century, you might also enjoy Sarah Burton’s The Strange Adventures of H. It’s a very, very different book to Rags of Time but also a great read.
My thanks to the author for giving me a free copy of this book. All my reviews are 100% honest and unbiased, regardless of how I acquire the book.