The principal character in Comely Grace is Abigail Mannory, daughter of a tanner in the Surrey town of Farnham in the mid-17th century. The story begins in the years before the English Civil War: Farnham is distant from events in Court and Parliament, but some in the town are already expressing sympathies for opposing sides. Over the next few years, events are seen through the eyes of Abigail, her brother Tom, who opts for the life of a carter over that of a tanner, and Ralph, a horse dealer to whom Abigail is attracted and who joins the Parliamentary forces.
I enjoyed this novel, particularly the glimpses into 17th-century life. The author’s understanding of the period provides unexpected details, such as having to catch a reluctant horse before one could begin a horse and cart journey. The realities of troops being billeted on the household and of trying to protect children from deadly infectious diseases are vividly described. Both Abigail and Tom are sympathetic characters, and I was drawn into their story: Abigail puts her own desires behind the needs of the family and friends who rely on her good sense. She waits for news of Ralph and Hal (an orphaned boy the family took in) as their troop advances and withdraws across Southern England, whilst Tom struggles with the difficulties of running his carting business during a time of war. Even Nathan, a journeyman whose attentions are unwanted by Abigail, is a well-rounded character.
The book has an appealing cover; however, there is some overuse of double spacing, and a further edit might correct a few instances where the sense is ambiguous. Overall, however, I would recommend this novel as a good read with insight into how the English Civil War might have been experienced by a family in a small English town.