The Tsar’s Locket
In 1581 near London, Julian Blunt, a former sea captain, walks into a Catholic cemetery towards his wife’s grave. It was for her that he’d converted to Catholicism, which was considered a treasonous act, and for which he’d been dismissed. A rider approaches and takes him into the church to meet none other than Queen Elizabeth. The Queen asks Julian to be part of a secret mission to Moscow to present a betrothal locket to Tsar Ivan (the Terrible). Julian is apprised of the importance of the assignment; he is undecided. But when the Queen offers to reinstate Julian, he agrees. Julian joins the party that includes Jessandra, a strong-willed young woman, who carries the locket. The hazardous journey across the Baltic Sea and into Russia is made more perilous by a papal assassin who is determined to stop at nothing, even murder, to obtain the locket and prevent the Tsar’s marriage. Julian’s capabilities are challenged, for he stands to lose his captaincy forever.
Ken Czech has penned an interesting novel based on the real story of Tsar Ivan’s interest in marrying Lady Mary Hastings, including a request for her portrait. Fictional characters and events are created brilliantly to fill in the unknown details. The inclusion of romance in the plot adds to the appeal. The well-placed conflict faced by the characters holds our attention up to the ending. The details and descriptions of the difficult sea voyage and the arduous land journey through northern Russia in wintery conditions are well narrated. Historical information about the war between Russia, Poland, and other European nations and the overall political situation is built into the storyline. The vivid descriptions of the European cities, including Moscow and the Tsar’s palace, transport us to that era. An exciting and informative novel. Highly recommended.