Based on the true scandal that rocked the court of James I, A Net for Small Fishes is the most gripping novel you’ll read this year: an exhilarating dive into the pitch-dark waters of the Jacobean court
Frances Howard has beauty and a powerful family – and is the most unhappy creature in the world.
Anne Turner has wit and talent – but no stage on which to display them. Little stands between her and the abyss of destitution.
When these two very different women meet in the strangest of circumstances, a powerful friendship is sparked. Frankie sweeps Anne into a world of splendour that exceeds all she imagined: a Court whose foreign king is a stranger to his own subjects; where ancient families fight for power, and where the sovereign’s favourite may rise and rise – so long as he remains in favour.
With the marriage of their talents, Anne and Frankie enter this extravagant, savage hunting ground, seeking a little happiness for themselves. But as they gain notice, they also gain enemies; what began as a search for love and safety leads to desperate acts that could cost them everything.
Prepare to be transported to 17th Century England and the outer fringes of the court of King James, in the company of two remarkable women, Anne and Frances.
Who were they? Apparently they did exist and the novel is based on extensive research by Jago into their lives. From completely opposite ends of the social spectrum, Anne and Frances were women before their time as they challenged the natural order of society, a woman’s total dependence on men for a home, finances and indeed their reputation.
Anne, wife of a well respected physician, mother to 5 children, a secret lover but an amazing talent as a fashion connoisseur, the 17th century equivalent to today’s best stylists. Not for her the trappings of wealth, but a modest house, and finances that barely covered her living expenses. Yet Jago gave her warmth, a loving caring personality, an acceptance of her lot until she glimpsed something more comfortable and easy.
That something seemed a possibility as she met Frances, Earl of Essex, a woman so far removed from Anne, still a teenager, married to a cruel despicable man, a man unable to consummate the marriage, a man Frances longed to free herself from.
You wouldn’t have expected them to be friends, but then that joint longing to seek freedom, gave Jago the means to spin a tail of drama, intrigue, of meetings with suspicious 17th century quacks, whose potions promised things you knew would never materialise.
What started as a simple means to bend the will of man, to solve a problem soon became something more complex and spelt danger for Anne and Frances, danger that they were willing to take. Jago took them and us deeper and deeper into the politics of the King’s court, of the clash of religion over happiness, of arranged marriages to strengthen the power of families.
As the plan appeared to work, they experienced a time of great happiness before Jago slowly drew the curtains, as doom seemed to push them further and further towards desperate measures that had the most awful of consequences.
You felt enormous empathy for them both, but in particular for Anne as the views and opinions of others saw her fortunes wane as everything she held dear withered away. Jago did nothing to protect us from the horrors that confronted her, but gave her so much inner resolve, determination and bravery that you couldn’t help but admire.
The bond and friendship that existed between Anne and Francis was unbreakable and something Jago portrayed brilliantly, she made you want these women to succeed, to tear up the rule book, and basically kick ass in such a male dominated court full of suspicion. The scandal they caused, the ripple it produced was like a volcano that erupted with force and intensity, that shook society to its very core and forced prejudice to the fore.
And it was that society that also shone brightly as Jago effortlessly placed us right in the centre of the 17th century. The hustle and bustle of court, the clothes worn by women and the outlandish costumes worn by men, particular those in power was vivid and colorful. You could sense the tension in the air, in the bodies of her characters, the brief glimpses of laughter, fun and frivolity that carried you along through the pages.
The squalor of the streets of London with its smells, and noise and dubious characters was nothing but brilliant. The atmospheric darkness that enveloped Anne and Frances as they visited men of dubious medicines, was tinged with the danger of discovery as you held your breath, waited for the time to pass safely.
The meticulous research done by Jago was so clearly evident, her ability to turn that research in to such high class fiction a feat I admired and respected.
A Small Net For Fishes, was nothing but utter compelling and I was totally spellbound by, as Jago has been quoted, ‘the Thelmas and Louise of the 17th century’
I would like to thank Bloomsbury for a copy of A Small Net For Fishes to read and review and to Ros Ellis for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
Lucy Jago is an award-winning writer of fiction and non-fiction and Fellow of the Royal Literary Fund. Her first book, The Northern Lights, won the National Biography prize and has been translated into eight languages. She was awarded a Double First Class Honours Degree from King’s College, University of Cambridge, and a master’s degree from the Courtauld Institute, London. She lives in Somerset.
More information about the author can be found following the link below