Friday, 20 February 2015

The Secret World of Christoval Alvarez by Ann Swinfen

Reviewer: Gillian Hamer, author of The Charter, Closure, Complicit and Crimson Shore. (

What we thought: This is the second novel I’ve read by this author, and I have to say yet again I have been impressed with both the writing and the storytelling.

Without giving away the ‘secret’ within the title, this was a wonderful tale of espionage and double-dealing in sixteenth century London. Having mostly read about royalty and Tudor exploits, it was very enjoyable to immerse myself in the lower classes of London life, and see how the real people coped with life in the city at that time. It is 1586 and the country is alive with plots to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I and put the Scots Queen, Mary, on the throne. No one is safe, and no one can be trusted.

Christoval is a superb lead character, excelling in languages and code-breaking, soon drawn in to the world of counter espionage. By taking us by the hand and opening our eyes to the new experiences faced around every corner, the reader feels part of the story as it unwinds. A new country, new language, new career might be enough for most of us to handle – but that is only the start for Christoval upon settling in the UK. And once under the wing of the Queen’s advisors, instead of feeling safe, Christoval found they were faced with even great dangers.

I loved the language also, and enjoyed learning a lot about the period in history – the diseases and living conditions were real eye openers. Ann Swinfen is a talented writer, who rarely disappoints. Her use of language, attention to detail and obvious prolific research bring whatever period she describes to life. This book is no exception and is a real credit to her skills.

I came to the final page of this book disappointed that it had ended, and ended on a huge twist too! There are another four books so far in the series, and I very much look forward to spending more time soon in Christoval’s world.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Philippa Gregory, Hilary Mantel.

Avoid if you don’t like: Historical fiction. London. Espionage.

Ideal accompaniments: Roasted mutton with cabbage, and a tankard of real ale.

Genre: Historical Fiction.

Available from Amazon

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