Friday, 2 March 2012

James Forrester: The Roots of Betrayal

England, 1564.  William Harley, instructed by Queen Elizabeth’s minister Lord Cecil to guard a document which would destroy her legitimacy, goes on the run when the document is stolen from his care. Harley battles Catholic rebels, his former friends, Crown enforcer Walsingham and revenge-driven pirate ‘Raw’ Carew in attempting to restore his good name by finding and quashing the document before it can be used to incite either rebellion or a pogrom against Catholics in England.

A direct continuation of the first Hawley novel Sacred Treason, The Roots of Betrayal is a linear chase in book form, with the at times surprisingly hardy hero enduring multiple running skirmishes, a sea battle, several escapes, tortures and standoffs, being as able with his fists and as determined in his character as he is useful with a quill.  Forrester’s (historian James Mortimer) aim here is rip-roaring entertainment rather than strict plausibility and on that level The Roots of Betrayal delivers, with plenty of action, colourful supporting characters and a proper old-school moustache-twirling villain in Walsingham.  The writing is brisk enough to power the reader along with the storyline; some details might get lost in the journey (Carew’s motivation is a bit awkward and the final reveals are ultimately disappointing as they’re easily reversed) but for the most part this is huge amounts of fun.

There’s a useful postscript where the author underlines his stance on historical fiction and his attitude towards historical ‘accuracy’; he’s clear that his obligation is to the story and nothing else, and points of concordance with historical record should not be taken to infer that some kind of theory is being propounded.  As Mortimer/Forrester says here “[t]his is a work of fiction – pure fiction”.    

Forrester, James.  2012.  The Roots of Betrayal (London: Headline Review), 440 pages, 978-0755356065

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