The Devil’s Slave (Frances Gorges Historical Trilogy)

Written by Tracy Borman
Review by Kristen McDermott

In 17th-century England, misogyny, lust, and religious bigotry drive most of King James I/VI’s decisions, according to Tracy Borman, who continues the Frances Gorges trilogy five years after The King’s Witch. Frances has survived the wholesale slaughter of the Gunpowder Treason conspirators, including her lover, Thomas Wintour, and finds herself pregnant and unprotected.

Borman, a well-regarded historian, has published numerous non-fiction works about the Tudor and Stuart courts. Her encyclopedic knowledge is on display in this trilogy, her first foray into fiction, and sometimes the reader gets the feeling that she’s simply moving from one documented incident to the next, with Frances’ reactions as filler in between. However, the narrative picks up speed as Frances struggles to protect her son and husband while various ambitious conspirators try to make use of her privileged position as the confidante of the Princess Elizabeth. This puts Frances into the thick of several dramatic events, including the secret marriage and attempted escape of James’s rival claimant to the throne, Arbella Stuart; the marriage negotiations for the Princess; and the tragic early death of Henry, Prince of Wales. In each, Frances, a talented healer, finds herself repeatedly suspected of witchcraft and treason. On the personal front, she begins to fall in love with Thomas Tyringham, the man who has given her a marriage of convenience, but must decide whether to trust him with her rapidly-expanding web of potentially fatal secrets.

Unfortunately, the incident-packed narrative leaves little room for character development (aside from Frances), and the Stuart men in particular come off as cartoonishly villainous. Similarly, Queen Anne and the Princess offer a level of protection to the continually beset Frances that strains credibility. Still, Borman keeps the story moving, managing to create a plausible love story for Frances and her husband in the midst of the rapid moral and familial disintegration of the Stuart Court.