Mia Morgan is researching the life of Lady Brilliana Harley, 17th-century Puritan and now known mostly for the letters she wrote to her husband, Sir Robert Harley. Mia is attempting to complete the research on Brilliana that her partner John was doing, before his sudden death from a coronary. This was two years ago, and Mia is still stuck in the bog of desperate bereavement, even though John’s friend, Bill Radic, who is writing the book, does his best to lift her out of her gloom. Mia’s life is made more complicated by the difficult relationship she has with her widowed and blind father.
This contemporary narrative alternates with Brilliana’s life, and extracts from her letters to her family. While Sir Robert is engaged in national politics in London, Brilliana is left behind to manage the estate and raise a growing family at Brampton Bryan castle in Herefordshire – tasks which are made considerably more challenging when the country slips into Civil War. The Harley’s part of the country is Royalist and is thus violently opposed to the Harley’s Puritan redoubt.
Parallels between the lives of Mia and Brilliana are made by the author. Even though there are profound differences between their lives, the similarities of the lot of the female in both societies are crisply delineated by Laura Beatty. This is an intelligent and well observed novel. Certainly not a story to race through, but linger and ponder on – although possibly just a little bloodless at times.