Spymaster: Deadly Storm and Fatal Voyage

Written by Jan Burchett Sara Vogler
Review by Val Loh

This book contains two separate novels in a single volume.

In Deadly Storm, Henry VIII and Lady Anne Boleyn set off from Knole House, Kent, to return to Greenwich Palace amidst a terrible storm. The year is 1532, and it is up to a young scribe, Jack Briars, and his master, Thomas Cromwell, to keep the monarch safe as they continue their perilous journey with the Yeoman guard.

The storm intensifies and their entourage is split. King Henry, Master Cromwell, Mister Mountford and the ‘weasel faced’ scribe Oswyn Drage, who looks down upon foundling Jack, take shelter at Norbrook Castle, home of the recently widowed Lady Margaret.

With the king disguised and Mister Mountford acting as a courtier, the plan is to protect the monarch’s identity until the storm passes and they can reveal the truth before continuing their journey. But all is not as it seems at Norbrook. Jack’s real role as a spy is needed to unveil the secrets the castle holds and save his king’s life.

Jack is helped in this task by his fiery friend, young seamstress, Cat. The pair complement each other; when one falters the other steps in. Cat’s character is strong and quick-witted, and she desires to be thought of as Jack’s equal. Together, with his stealth, bravery and ability to observe and react quickly, they are the perfect balance.

I loved the way the king’s confidence, or arrogance, is captured. No one dares challenge his decisions directly. Expressions such as ‘mazed’ give the feel of the period, as does the passing mention of the textiles used in both clothes and buildings, as well as the use of herbs. The pace is swift, the action intense and the ending delights.

In the second book, Fatal Voyage, the Fair Anne, an impressively gilded galleon, is moored at Deptford Docks. King Henry has had it built to honour his love, Lady Anne Boleyn. Jack has been entrusted with the important task of keeping the plans safe. The king is delighted with a statue of the fair lady to be revealed to her when the galleon is launched on an auspicious day. The best laid plans can go astray, and soon they do.

Jack reacts on impulse and saves his monarch’s life. He is the hero of the day, but what follows provides high drama and continuous action. I do not want to reveal too much of the plot, as it is such a joy to follow with red herrings aplenty.

With Cat’s help, the two daringly use disguises and their wits to chase the perpetrators of the plan to steal the galleon’s secrets and bring Henry down. The two bravely step onto internationally sensitive soil as well as doing all they can to unearth a plot. Their friendship is always supportive despite their differences of opinion. The detail of the docks, ship, the food provided for the royal guests from gingerbread galleons to exquisite tarts, captures the feel and imagery of the period and setting.

Both books work as standalone novels, despite being part of a series. Highly recommended for 8+.