The Licence of War (Laurence Beaumont 2)
This is quite a tome at just under 600 pages, but it turns out to be a quick and brilliant read. Laurence Beaumont, impetuous and cynical renegade son of a nobleman, is recruited by the egregious Lord Digby as a royalist spy. Destined to marry a suitable wife to continue the family line, Beaumont is still in love with the clever and beautiful Isabella Savage with her secret link to Digby himself. Can Beaumont trust her? Can he trust anyone? Even his mother has a murky past which, if it comes to light, may destroy the family.
Set during the turbulent year of 1643 when England is plunged headlong into civil war, the shadow of betrayal hangs over everyone. Arch-villain Veech, with his personal vendetta against Beaumont, adds a strong vein of malevolence to the poisonous political disputes that set faction against faction, but he earns a sad though deserved comeuppance in the end. With a full canvas of many minor but essential and continually fascinating characters, Dr Seward stands out as the still point in this whirling brew. Able to scry into the future, he is a warning of greater forces at work than the merely personal.
Mixing historical figures with fictional protagonists may not tell us the truth about actual events after Charles I raised his standard at Nottingham, and the bloody set-piece battles between royalists and parliamentarians are given short shrift, as is that archetype of romantic cavaliers, Prince Rupert, but even so Letemendia vividly evokes the dirt and tumult of 17th-century London and Oxford. Best of all, she leaves Laurence Beaumont to fight another day. I can’t wait for the third instalment of this skilfully written series.