The Apostates (The Seton Chronicles Book 3)

Written by V E H Masters
Review by Katherine Mezzacappa

Antwerp, 1549: Mainard, a converso married to Bethia, a Scots Catholic, prepares to move his family to Venice. Ultimately, Bethia, her brother Will (a Protestant who has served time in the galleys for his principles) and Katheline, Mainard’s sister who has only outwardly conformed to Christianity, set out without him. On the way, the little group has to rely on the kindness of strangers, too often revealed as treachery. Meanwhile, Mainard is imprisoned. It is only with the help of the cartographer Abraham Ortelius (one of a number of historical figures who appear in the book) that Mainard escapes and seeks to be reunited with his wife and baby son.

Historical details abound: inflated pigs’ bladders used to float a boat, the plucking of the hairline for a high forehead, Calvin’s dispute with Michael Servetus. But there are inaccuracies, like the reference to ‘wee Queen Mary of Scotland’ (when Henry VIII sought the hand of Mary of Guise in 1537, he described himself as a big man in search of a big wife). Tintoretto’s ‘Presentation of the Virgin’ is described as hanging above the main altar (of the Madonna dell’Orto); it is not certain that the painting existed at this date, and in any case, it originally served, in two halves, as a pair of organ doors. Will is enraged to hear his sister saying the Ave Maria at a Protestant service when everyone else is saying the Lord’s Prayer. As a Catholic, Bethia is more likely to have joined in – but in Latin.

That said, Masters compellingly explores, through one family, the theme of religious difference and the risk each member of it runs, depending on the prevailing wind of the cities they pass through.