Friday 22 November 2019

#BookReview — Written in their Stars: A Novel The Lydiard Chronicles Book 3) by Elizabeth St.John #HistoricalFiction #CivilWar @ElizStJohn

Written in their Stars: A Novel
(The Lydiard Chronicles Book 3)
By Elizabeth St.John

London, 1649.

Horrified eyewitnesses to King Charles’s bloody execution, Royalists Nan Wilmot and Frances Apsley plot to return the king’s exiled son to England’s throne, while their radical cousin Luce, the wife of king-killer John Hutchinson, rejoices in the new republic’s triumph. Nan exploits her high-ranking position as Countess of Rochester to manipulate England’s great divide, flouting Cromwell and establishing a Royalist spy network; while Frances and her husband Allen join the destitute prince in Paris’s Louvre Palace to support his restoration. As the women work from the shadows to topple Cromwell’s regime, their husbands fight openly for the throne on England’s bloody battlefields.

But will the return of the king be a victory, or destroy them all? Separated by loyalty and bound by love, Luce, Nan and Frances hold the fate of England—and their family—in their hands.\

A true story based on surviving memoirs of Elizabeth St.John's family, Written in their Stars is the third novel in the Lydiard Chronicles series.

"—and tonight we have attained the destiny foretold by the stars." John held her at arm's length, and a knife-blade of cold air sliced between them. "I signed the warrant to execute Charles Stuart, once King of England."

This is what they had fought for. This is what they had died for. The King was dead. Parliament had won. With Charles' blood comes rebirth. A nation born again.

But, to sign the death warrant of a king is no small thing. But the dream... The dream is too intoxicating, too great to heed the whispered warning that even Cromwell with his army could not silence. The King is dead, but his son is not.

Women, they may be, but they are not weak, nor helpless. Staunch Royalists, Nan Wilmot, Countess of Rochester, and Frances Apsley are dedicated to their cause and their new king. They may not be able to fight in Charles' army as their husbands can and would do again, but when it comes to espionage, well, that is something else entirely. 

Luce Hutchinson had rejoiced when they had taken the King's head from his shoulders, even if it meant driving a deeper wedge between herself and her brother, Allen Apsley. But when Cromwell is named Lord Protector, she and her husband John  — the king-killer— realise that they have swapped a king for something much worse. This was not the republic they had spilt their blood for. This was not what they had wanted at all.

From a cold January morning outside Banqueting House in Whitehall, to the filth and stench of the Parisian streets, and the quite tranquil graveyard at St Margaret's Church, Owthorpe, Written in their Stars: A Novel (The Lydiard Chronicles Book 3) by Elizabeth St.John is the profoundly moving true story of one family who fought on opposite sides of the English Civil War, but somehow, against all the odds, found their way back to each other.

When I read that last sentence, the last word, and noted the final full stop, I closed my eyes as if in prayer, and I took a moment for myself in which I quietly contemplated the journey I had just been on. With tears still glistening in my eyes, and a sigh on my lips, I closed the book, sat back and allowed the poetic, the almost lyrical narrative to embrace me once again. The characters, their journey, their triumphs and their failures caught my imagination and captured my heart. I had come to not only care about these men and women who had lived so long ago but a part of me, a rather large part of me, fell hopelessly in love with them and their story — a story that was not lost to history but one that has certainly been overlooked by authors of historical fiction. I have never encountered a series that captures the essences of the English Civil War as well as St.John's The Lydiard Chronicles does. There is something intensely personal about the way St.John writes her ancestors story. I think if Lucy Hutchinson, author of Order and Disorder — the first epic poem by an Englishwoman — was alive today and read this book, this series, that depicts her family so elegantly and so unforgettably then she would feel a moment of profound gratitude and pride. Lucy's story, her families story, has been waiting all these years for St.John to put pen to paper and write it. This series was what St.John was born to write.

You know you are in the hands of a master when the unfamiliar world of the 17th Century becomes familiar. The Lydiard Chronicles is a gripping account of war, betrayal, love, hate and loss. Written in their Stars, an aptly named book indeed, begins with a death, and it ends with one too, and such stories, especially when based on true events and people tend to threaten to mesmerise the readers. St.John has gone one step further. She does not threaten to mesmerise — she does. This is a vivid account of one family as they navigate the new republic. The disillusionment of John Hutchinson and his wife, who were so excited, so relieved that the republic would bring long-lasting peace and fairness became something worse than the monarchy they had worked so hard to overthrow. Luce's passion, her intelligence which rivalled her husband and at times completely outshone him made this terrible realisation that perhaps they had made a mistake and that they had put their faith in an idea that had become corrupted made this book compulsively readable. Luce's journey throughout this series, but particularly in this book, is one I don't think anyone would willingly want to go on — it is utterly heartbreaking. Luce sees everything they had worked for destroyed. Her despair and pain became my own — a wonderful depiction of this incredible woman who saw and experienced so very much. Kudos, Ms St.John.

From cyphers to plots and failed rebellions, this book has more than enough action to keep a reader forgoing sleep. Sleep, indeed, was not necessary to me as I lost myself in this monumental work of scholarship. St.John has painted this story on a huge canvas, but the writing is effortless, there was never any confusion as to who everyone was and what role they played in this story of kings and politicians. 

The historical detailing in this book is staggering. I can only imagine how many hours St.John has dedicated to researching this era and these people. The sacrifice has undoubtedly paid off. There are no two ways about it — this book is brilliant. It is like watching a movie or a TV series. It asks nothing of the reader other than the commitment to keep reading, and you will want to read on. This book is astonishingly epic and yet beautiful to behold.

Written in their Stars is the third book in this series, but it stands very firmly on its own two feet. But for the love of everything historical, start at Book 1 — this is a series not to be missed. I am now a devoted fan of Elizabeth St.John's books. Historical fiction does not get any better than this. St.John has made history come alive and WOW, what a journey. What a story. This is a book that will break your heart, but at the same time, mend it. It is exceptional. When historical fiction is written this way, there is no such thing as too much.

I Highly Recommend.

Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.

Pick up your copy of
Written in their Stars

Elizabeth St.John

Elizabeth St.John was brought up in England and lives in California. To inform her writing, she has tracked down family papers and residences from Nottingham Castle, Lydiard Park, and Castle Fonmon to the Tower of London. Although the family sold a few castles and country homes along the way (it's hard to keep a good castle going these days), Elizabeth's family still occupy them - in the form of portraits, memoirs, and gardens that carry their imprint. And the occasional ghost.

Elizabeth’s debut novel, The Lady of the Tower, has been an Amazon best seller since its release in 2016, and has won numerous awards for historical fiction. By Love Divided, the second in The Lydiard Chronicles series, follows the fortunes of the St.John family during the English Civil War,  and was featured a the 2018 Swindon Festival of Literature as well as recognized with an “Editors’ Choice” by the Historical Novel Society.  Elizabeth’s currently working on the next in the series, telling of the lives of the St.John women after the Civil War and into the Restoration.

Elizabeth loves to hear from readers, you can find her: Website • Amazon Author PageTwitter • Facebook

1 comment:

  1. Great review ... this type of fiction brings the people of that difficult time into focus: can't wait to read it!


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Mary Anne xxx