REVIEW: London in Chains by Gillian Bradshaw
An English Civil War novel from a highly-acclaimed author – London, 1647. Lucy Wentor, a young lady who was attacked by soldiers during the civil war, and then rejected by her sweetheart, hopes to start her life afresh in the capital with her uncle and aunt. London, however, is in chaos and her once well-to-do uncle is now almost bankrupt. Unwilling to go home, Lucy finds a job in publishing – and excitement, love and independence soon follow.
Trigger warnings – Lucy was raped by three soldiers, two years before the start of the book.
Note – there is a sequel, Corruptible Crown: A seventeenth-century historical drama (An English Civil War Novel Book 2) but this book is complete by itself.
Dear Ms. Bradshaw,
As you said in your author notes/historical epilogue – you’re out of your [time] period! I’ve enjoyed reading your books set in ancient Egypt, Roman Britain, medieval France, and 4th century Middle East. Despite many people recommending this book, I hesitated because – 17th century England, English Civil War, a time and event that was so different from what I’d read by you. I also balked a little at what I’d heard about the heroine having been raped by soldiers. Yes she was but that took place before the opening of the story though the effects are still reverberating for her. Yet once I’d jumped into the story, I was fascinated not only by what Lucy learns and how she grows but also cheering Lucy’s strength.
London in all its historical 17th century glory is front and center in the story. Country Lucy is a first overwhelmed by the noise, stink, and filth not to mention the lukewarm greeting from her Uncle’s miserly wife. But Lucy has no desire to stay back at home where everyone knows what happened to her. Her former fiance threw her over as “soiled goods,” her father had to use her dowry to purchase new milk cows to replace those stolen, and he, who should have been her shield and protector, can’t face the fact that he wasn’t able to protect her. Thus even at home she feels shamed – note not ashamed but shamed.
Her first evening in London will open a door to a new life. Feeling unwelcome and sure that her aunt is about to force her into servitude, Lucy jumps at the chance to earn her own money. Before long, she’s learning how to set type (men learned it, it was real work unlike scorned domestic skills) and run a printing press. Lucy is also discovering the seething discontent in London and that the Civil War might not be as finished as she’s longed for it to be. Factions abound and many are using pamphlets and news letters as means to further their influence or to argue their cause. Used to only having the Bible and a book of martyrs in her house to read, Lucy eagerly reads the weekly news books, soaks up knowledge and forms political opinions. A new world of thoughts makes her rethink everything she’s always been taught and believed.
I was surprised to discover is how interesting all the political machinations were and how important these are to the story. It’s far beyond religion or the Divine Right of Kings. The other historical details – daily wages, living conditions, marriage prospects, censorship – are fascinating and I liked how while the dialog isn’t anachronistically modern, it’s not “faux period” either.
Watching Lucy change is heady stuff. At first she’s like a newborn filly on wobbly legs – albeit a filly who isn’t going to let herself be easily harnessed. Once she gets her bearings, there’s no stopping her. She still obeys the strictures to be humble to family (even if inwardly she’s gritting her teeth about it), though letting some of the things her aunt does and says go unchallenged grates Lucy at times, but she speaks up about her working conditions, how her pay should be equal to a man’s, and rebukes the help that’s found to assist her with the heavy press. Quite a few of the men are taken aback when Lucy won’t accept what they tell her. Go Lucy!
What was done to her still affects her though. Lucy will have to face her lingering fears of people and places that remind her of that. Her family at home hasn’t accepted that she has a new life and isn’t longing to return to them. But by golly she doesn’t stay quiet in the face of injustice, meekly hiding in the back, afraid to speak up. She’s not going to broadcast what she endured but she’s not going cower nor will she lie. I found myself with a big smile on my face reading about Lucy. B+