Kathleen Kent references English history during the upheaval of Oliver Cromwell and King Charles to create a fascinating historical fiction around the man responsible for beheading Charles I, in her latest book, The Wolves of Andover.
Cromwell has rallied Parliament, has King Charles I executed as a despot, and becomes England’s new Lord Protector – a king without the title, only later to be displaced by the Royalists who restore the throne with Charles II. Through an intricate plot that focuses on Thomas Morgan, the Welshman and soldier executioner of the king, Kent retells this turbulent period in English history by inoculating the facts with a little romance, some gory descriptions of torture and beheadings, and a thriller full of spies and double agents.
Morgan, in hiding in the New England colonies, eventually connects with Martha Allen, who by 1673 Massachusetts standards, is a spinstress, as well as an outspoken, willful woman. Her father sends her away to care for her pregnant cousin, to help with the children and household duties, and hopefully to find a husband.
You twenty-three and I begin to despair of ye ever comin’ to bed with a husband. Can ye not for once, guard yer tongue and mind yer place?
Kent has Thomas Morgan (now known as Carrier) and Martha Allen dance a lovely romantic interlude, complete with the tall quiet rogue pursuing the feisty maiden. Wolves dramatically appear on the scene, marking the beginning of their attraction, which develops into true love and loyalty to dangerous secrets.
Meanwhile, Charles II has commissioned assassins to find and kill Thomas Morgan (Carrier), and bring back the head of his father’s executioner. The story flips back and forth from the colonies with Martha’s daily problems with her cousin’s household and her growing attraction to Thomas – to England, following the assassins across the sea in pursuit, and “going to ground” to find their prey.
The Wolves of Andover starts slowly, and it took me awhile to get into the necessary rhythm of the prosaic dialogue – placing the story and the characters easily in the seventeenth century. But, once Kent connects her main characters – Thomas and Martha – the story becomes compelling and an easy way to learn British history.
Kent cleverly links characters she introduces at the beginning of the story to later incidents, and in the end, carefully wraps up all the details – even continuing on to provide more historical data, after the actual story has ended. The letter to her daughter Sarah provides the segway to The Heretic’s Daughter...and a description I could apply to my own mother…
…tell your children your mother was more ferocious than kind, more contentious than agreeable, more irate than placid, but who cherished her family above all else… and that you had a mother who cared for you beyond reason, beyond tepid courtesies…that you are, and ever will be, loved…
Kent wrote The Wolves of Andover as the prequel to her first popular bestseller – The Heretic’s Daughter. I haven’t read that tale of Martha Allen (Morgan) Courier and her daughter in colonial Salem – not sure I’m up for another witch trial story.
For more British historical fiction, you might try an amazing story about the other Cromwell (Thomas) in Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.