In 1688, torn by rebellions, England lives under the threat of a Dutch invasion. Redheaded Calumny Spinks is the lowliest man in an Essex backwater: half-French and still unapprenticed at seventeen, yet he dreams of wealth and title.
When his father’s violent past resurfaces, Calumny’s desperation leads him to flee to London and become a coffee racketeer. He has just three months to pay off a blackmailer and save his father’s life – but his ambition and talent for mimicry pull him into a conspiracy against the King himself. Cal’s journey takes him from the tough life of Huguenot silk weavers to the vicious intrigues at Court. As the illicit trader Benjamin de Corvis and his controlling daughter Emilia pull him into their plots, and his lover Violet Fintry is threatened by impending war, Cal is forced to choose between his conscience and his dream of becoming Mister Calumny Spinks.
calumny - a false and malicious statement designed to injure the reputation of someone or something
I like Calumny Spinks. He occasionally has a filthy mouth and way too many hormones for one teenage boy, but part of me understands him.
His father, Peter, has not allowed Calumny to be schooled or to enter into an apprenticeship, whereby he might be able to support himself one day in a trade. He has scant time left before that option will be closed to him forever. Assuming, of course, that no one would like to make him seem still eligible.
But few things in England of the time are what they seem. Since Scottish kings came to power in England after the death of Elizabeth I, Catholics were once again in power, and lording it over Protestants. But then, the situation had been reversed on at least two occasions since Henry VIII started the Church of England in order to be able to divorce Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn.
In spite of the fact Calumny had a home and a mother and father still living, he reminds me a lot of children who grow up in the streets, either having run away, or because it's easier for them to find food there than at their 'homes'. Street kids learn hard and fast, and so did Calumny.
The rhythm of the language Mr. Alexander uses in The Bitter Trade is high up on my list of favorites. It conveys the difference in language between then and now well, while remaining accessible to most readers.
I am excited (already) to read the sequel when it comes out.
Piers Alexander is an author and serial entrepreneur. After a successful career as CEO of media and events companies he became a Co-Founder and Chairman of three start-up businesses. In 2013 he was awarded the PEN Factor Prize for The Bitter Trade. He is currently working on the sequel, Scatterwood, set in Jamaica in 1692.
For more information visit Piers Alexander’s website. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.
(Disclosure: I received a print copy of The Bitter Trade from the author and publisher via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.)
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