The Silvered Heart | Katherine Clements | 2015 | Headline | 448p | Review copy | Buy the book
It is 1648, Charles I has been imprisoned by Cromwell, and England, its land and families, have been devastated by Civil War. Heiress Katherine Ferrers is to be married off to Thomas Fanshawe who will not only gain a bride but also her inheritance of the family home of Markyate Cell. The War refuses to end as armies rally for that one last push and the roads that cross England are dangerous places, the refuge of defeated soldiers and the displaced, men turned highwaymen. Kate and Rachel, her companion and maid, learn this all too well on their journey to Fanshawe and his house, Ware Park. What happens to Kate on the road shapes her life from that moment on. But before it can change her future, Kate must endure years beside a distant, neglectful and loveless husband, neither of them wealthy as they once were, with Kate scraping an existence from an impoverished estate while her husband stays in London and plots with fellow royalists. Meanwhile, the new King Charles waits impatiently across the Channel.
In The Silvered Heart, Katherine Clements returns to the English Civil War, a time that she first depicted in last year’s The Crimson Ribbon. While much of that book dealt with a woman’s lot in London, The Silvered Heart moves the action into a countryside ravaged by war, its grand homes ruined by cannon, the fields neglected. Katherine Ferrers is, in my opinion, a far more spirited heroine than Ruth and Lizzie in The Crimson Ribbon, events seem more real and desperate. Inevitably, as before, men take the lead in fighting the War, plotting for or against the King, but Kate has no choice but to take charge of her new estate, such as it is, and to take matters into her own hands. As in the previous novel, the heroine falls for an unsuitable lover, but here that love takes second place to Kate’s determined efforts to survive and her strong sense of self. I liked that.
This is a beautifully written novel. Several houses play an important part in the novel and each is richly painted. As we tour these houses, their past grandeur hidden by debris and fallen plaster, it’s easy to imagine them before our eyes. The atmosphere of war and danger is also very well created. Kate never knows who might arrive at her door next, demanding all her food, her horses, their lives. Kate has a very strong sense of place, history and order. All of these things are assaulted by the Civil War and by her marriage. And so she decides to fight back. Kate Ferrers becomes a notorious highwaywoman, a price put on her head.
There is much that is romantic about the world portrayed in The Silvered Heart. This is, after all, at least in the second half of the novel, the tale of a highwaywoman’s adventures, albeit based on the story of a woman who actually existed. There is glamour, disguise, excitement and the thrill of the chase, all partnered with Kate’s love for her fellow bandit, a love story that is painfully fragile and vulnerable. The reader longs for them to escape time after time with their ill-gotten gains. But there is another side to it. The people they rob and intimidate may be as poor as themselves. Kate is also very afraid, not entirely competent. But more than that – this was an especially harsh period in English history and one can never forget that it’s this despair and desperation that brings Kate to the perilous life of highway robbery.
In The Silvered Heart, Katherine Clements has created a wonderfully enjoyably novel that mixes perfectly a realistic, harsh portrait of country life during the Civil War and the Protectorate with the romance of adventure and an unsuitable love affair. The story is held together by Katherine Ferrers – I instantly fell in love with her, I was desperate to see how life turned out for her. She is charming and lovely, and also cross and brave. Everyone loves her, except the man who should love her the most, and it’s this charisma that creates problems between Kate and her maid Rachel. This is an interesting relationship, although Rachel suffers by comparison to Kate. She is overshadowed and, as a result, her character is much more two-dimensional, as is the character of Kate’s lover. It’s hard to shine next to Kate, she’s such a fabulous, dominant personality and a wonderful narrator, for this is Kate’s story told in her own words. Intriguingly, though, there is some hope for her husband – this world is not black or white.
The Silvered Heart is a substantial book, covering several years of history, but I read it in its entirety in just one day, despite work and everything else that stole hours away from it. I loved the heroine from the very first chapter and from that moment on I was hooked – by the characters, the story, the historical and geographical setting and by Katherine Clements’ gorgeous writing. This increasingly emotional read made time stand still for this reader at least.
The Crimson Ribbon