The Reversible Mask: An Elizabethan Spy Novel

Written by Loretta Goldberg
Review by Christine Childs

The Reversible Mask is Loretta Goldberg’s first novel. Goldberg is an Australian-American with an academic background in literature, history and music. The Reversible Mask is the first in a future series of three novels but can be read as a stand- alone. It’s an epic, Elizabethan-era political intrigue and espionage novel spanning 22 years. Goldberg takes the reader from 1566 England at the time of Elizabeth 1 and Mary Queen of Scots, through to Spain, France and across Europe to Constantinople and back to Calais.

Inspired by a real Elizabethan spy, Goldberg has created protagonist Sir Edward Latham. He’s a minor Catholic aristocrat in Protestant England. With complicated allegiance to Catholic Mary, Protestant Elizabeth and other European Catholic monarchs, he becomes a successful double agent driven by a desire for religious peace. He’s bisexual and opportunistic and tries to keep free of entanglements, a loner with many superficial acquaintances. In Latham, Goldberg has created a flawed character, perfect for the challenging role of international espionage in a Europe with rapidly shifting, national alliances.

Goldberg’s research and description of the complex, interdependent political and religious situation in Europe during this period is remarkable. At times it appears to overshadow the pace and flow of the story. Nevertheless, The Reversible Mask is action oriented and richly descriptive and has a cast of intriguing characters. Often a dense read, this 30-chapter epic is not for the fainthearted, but if you enjoy national politics, battle scenes and want to learn more about this period of history, beyond the popular story of Elizabeth 1 and Mary Queen of Scots, it is well worth it.