Review: The Queen's Spy by Clare Marchant

I'm delighted to share with you a Tudor treat today with my latest review, for The Queen's Spy by Clare Marchant.

My thanks to the Coffee Pot Book Club, and the author/publisher, for a copy.

The Queen's Spy

Clare Marchant

Historical Dual-Timeline

The Queen's Spy is an intriguing novel. Ms Marchant sets the scene well as we delve into Tudor England in the 1580s. Catholic plots are rife to replace Elizabeth I with her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, who is held captive at Elizabeth's orders. 

Tom, deaf and mute, has deep knowledge of herbs. Having arrived in England from France, after years spent without a home, he's ready to settle down. As luck would have it, he becomes an assistant to apothecary, Hugh, he ends up at court where his skills are soon discovered. But it's not his skill with potions and tisanes that make his services appealing to Walsingham. Tom can lip-read. 

Before he knows it, Walsingham sends him out to spy on potential traitors. He even goes on tour with Kit Marlowe to flush out hosts that are secretly Catholic. As his work is acknowledged, he falls in love with young widowed lady, Isabel, who returns his feelings. They marry in secret, bear the queen's wrath, but he is too important to languish in gaol, so soon Tom leads a blissfully happy life with Isabel. 

But unbeknown to him, his line of work creates enemies. And when they strike, it's with devastating consequences.

Then we have the modern-day narrative surrounding Mathilde. The author has decided not to mention the Covid pandemic, so the narrative takes a ’normal’ turn, without restrictions. Having received a letter regarding the father she'd long thought dead, she discovers that he only recently died, and she's heiress to his manor house. Fuelled by her mother's fragile mental state, she's been on the move all her life, living in a converted van and working as a freelance photographer. Now, she's torn between selling the house or settling near her younger half-sister who is delighted she has found her. When Mathilde discovers a triptych hidden in a chapel, the dreams begin...

Tom is a wonderful character. Adventurous, daring, despite his disability. He veers between excitement and awareness of the danger he puts himself in in the line of his spying work. A humble guy with no possessions, he is well aware of his station. 

I enjoyed the historical narrative more than the modern one, which seemed a bit of a repetition of the plot. And whilst Tom's story goes the full arc, with highs and lows, and a satisfying but very sad conclusion, I still had questions about Mathilde's purpose. Her dreams echoed the scenes Tom painted on the triptych, and she felt a presence in the house (I'm guessing it's meant to be Tom), but it was not really explained). I found her superficial, with a careless attitude, and could not get into her head. Her attitude changed through the story as she grew closer to her sister, Rachel, and Rachel's daughter, Fleur – and Oliver, the expert they'd called in to help with investigating the triptych, but the change happened quite suddenly. 

Ms Marchant's attention to historical detail is impeccable. She describes the Tudor court beautifully, and you got a real sense of the political undercurrents. The fear of plots and rebellions was realistic, and each setting was well-researched. You had a deep sense of being there.

Tom is a great character, and I found his adventures intriguing. I'd have preferred to go deeper into them, but realise it's challenging with a character who relies on scribbled notes, often in code, and sign language. The author dealt with his challenges really well, I thought.

Overall, The Queen's Spy is a vivid adventure, with the historical part set in dangerous times when secret plots and threats of rebellion were rife. The modern aspect is nicely done, although I probably would've given Tom a full historical novel for his adventures. He has plenty of stories to tell!



1584: Elizabeth I rules England. But a dangerous plot is brewing in court, and Mary Queen of Scots will stop at nothing to take her cousin’s throne.

There’s only one thing standing in her way: Tom, the queen’s trusted apothecary, who makes the perfect silent spy…

2021: Travelling the globe in her campervan, Mathilde has never belonged anywhere. So when she receives news of an inheritance, she is shocked to discover she has a family in England.

Just like Mathilde, the medieval hall she inherits conceals secrets, and she quickly makes a haunting discovery. Can she unravel the truth about what happened there all those years ago? And will she finally find a place to call home?

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About the Author:

Clare Marchant

Growing up in Surrey, Clare always dreamed of being a writer. Instead, she followed a career in IT, before moving to Norfolk for a quieter life and re-training as a jeweller.

Now writing full time, she lives with her husband and the youngest two of her six children. Weekends are spent exploring local castles and monastic ruins, or visiting the nearby coast.

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