Moon in Leo
Set in the 1670s, against a backdrop of the political and economic unrest which led to the Monmouth Rebellion, Moon in Leo is a terrific read, full of incident and rich in historical and topographical detail. The story centres on the feisty and gifted heiress, Rosamund Halistan, and the two men who court her. Both will be glad of her money, but only one is prepared to give his heart in return. Rosamund, meanwhile, is preoccupied with the safety of her twin brother, Stephen, whose return from travelling in Europe puts him in great danger.
Herbert handles her clearly immense knowledge of this period deftly and uses her profound familiarity with the landscape of the Leven estuary in Lancashire to great effect in creating her fictional world. I was particularly impressed by the way in which she could make the reader understand how far London was from the north of England in those days, and how events which seem momentous in retrospect touched some parts of the country hardly at all. Her characters are not so much preoccupied with the politics of Whitehall as with the turning of the seasons and the powers that reside in the land.
I did find the juxtaposition of realist fiction and fantasy somewhat uneasy, and the plot stretched almost beyond the bounds of credibility towards the end of the novel, but Rosamund and her suitors are arresting characters, and the supporting cast well drawn, and the action never lets up. Enjoyable and undemanding.