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A Net for Small Fishes by Lucy Jago

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Historical Fiction

By Swirl and Thread

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A Net for Small Fishes by Lucy Jago has just recently been published with Bloomsbury and is based on the true scandal that rocked the court of James I. It is described as ‘the most gripping novel you’ll read this year: an exhilarating dive into the pitch-dark waters of the Jacobean court’.

Recounting a tale of splendour, hedonism, jealousy and so much more A Net for Small Fishes is the story of a very special female friendship, one that resulted in a huge scandal in the Jacobean court of James I. Frances Howard, Countess of Essex, wife of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, and Mistress Anne Turner, wife of George Turner, Treasurer to the College of Physicians and medical doctor at the court of James VI & I, developed a very powerful and close relationship, one that would put them unwittingly in great danger and put their friendship in jeopardy.

I very recently watched the movie Mary, Queen of Scots, with Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie, and what I was most shocked and taken aback by was the pure decadence of their behaviour. I immediately suspected it had been given a salacious Hollywood type of make-over and was completely surprised, through an online search, to discover that it wasn’t. Reading A Net for Small Fishes recalls a similarity in the revelry and general behaviour of the court with Lucy Jago painting an incredible picture for all her readers.

Frances (Frankie) Howard and Anne Turner’s relationship developed based on mutual trust and understanding. When Frankie suffered terrible physical and mental abuse from her young, and clearly frustrated, husband, it was to Anne she turned. Anne was never one to pander too much to the courtly goings on and was a maverick of sorts for her time. Her husband George was an older man with open views. Theirs was a relationship that involved other parties but, with the full knowledge and acceptance of all involved. When George Turner passed away, Anne’s position in society became a little more unstable but her friendship with Frankie remained strong.

Frankie was terribly unhappy. Her marriage remained unconsummated and Robert Devereux’s actions became more violent toward her. Frankie needed to get away from this man who frightened her, a man who brutalised her very being but her position in court left very few options open to her. She sought out the assistance of others, folk with more dubious reputations, including London apothecary and astrologer, Simon Forman. Anne was able to organise meetings for Frankie and, together, they embarked on some clandestine evenings in the hope that readings and divinations would assist Frankie with her life moving forward. Necromancy was considered a very dangerous practice and for Frankie and Anne these meetings would all bode ill for their futures.

Frankie eventually, with Anne’s assistance, successfully got her marriage annulled and was free to marry her true love, and also a royal favourite, Robert Carr. He was handsome, passionate, everything her husband was not. Marrying Robert Carr was all that she wanted. With her new husband and her best friend now by her side, Frankie eventually found happiness…but for how long?

Sir Thomas Overbury, Robert Carr’s friend, was a loose canon, a poet and essayist with an outspoken view of the world. He had eyes and ears on everyone with Frankie and Anne seriously concerned that he was aware of some of their antics behind the scenes. When he was arrested and thrown in The Tower, his subsequent death while incarcerated was attributed to murder. He was supposedly poisoned….

In A Net for Small Fishes, Lucy Jago incredibly captures the drama, in all its colours, of these years when a scandal of tremendous proportion played out in the Jacobean court. Mistress Anne Turner, now a widow with six young children, had the ear of a very powerful young woman. Frances (Frankie) Howard was a strong, able young lady who refused to lie down and be brow beaten by her husband, in an arranged marriage where love would never flourish. They dreamt big enough to take on the male-dominated society of the time and, to a point, they succeeded but theirs is ultimately a very tragic and harrowing tale, with a soul destroying conclusion.

A Net for Small Fishes has everything you could possibly look for, and more, in historical fiction. Packed with amazing imagery and powerful descriptions, this a book that dazzles very brightly indeed. There is treachery, greed, decadence and debauched behaviour. There is violence, intrigue, shocks aplenty, remorse and death. It has it all. The story is narrated by Mistress Anne Turner, giving the reader a first-hand account of her life and the fateful journey she took. A book made for the screen, A Net for Small Fishes, is truly cinematic in its portrayal of this really incredibly extravagant and sumptuous tale. Quite simply superb!

(c) Swirl and Thread

Order your copy online here.

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