Mallory Bright is the only daughter of London’s master locksmith. For her there is no lock too elaborate, no secret too well kept. Sir Francis Walsingham, spymaster and protector of Queen Elizabeth—the last of the Tudor monarchs—and her realm, is quick to realise Mallory’s talent and draws her into his world of intrigue, danger and deception. With her by his side, no scheme in England or abroad is safe from discovery; no plot secure.
But Mallory’s loyalty wavers when she witnesses the execution of three Jesuit priests, a punishment that doesn’t fit their crime. When Mallory discovers the identity of a Catholic spy and a conspiracy that threatens the kingdom, she has to make a choice – between her country and her heart.
Mallory, however, carries her own dark secrets and is about to learn those being kept from her—secrets that could destroy those she loves.
Once Sir Francis’s greatest asset, Mallory is fast becoming his worst threat … and everyone knows there’s only one way Sir Francis deals with those.
The Locksmith’s Daughter, by Australian author, Karen Brooks, is a complex, plot-driven novel that features richly detailed prose, a well-written cast of characters, and a story with so many excellent twists and turns, I wasn’t sure which way my head was pointing by the end. So deviously crafted I never saw two pivotal twists that, when they came, knocked me for six, so startling and wonderfully unexpected. To me, not just a sign of good writing, but great writing.
It’s these kinds of twists, along with excellent depth of characterisation that sets this novel way above any I’ve read for a long time. Sharply observed and written in the first person POV, the character of Mallory Bright is as engaging as she is flawed, and beset with the enormity of poor choices that cost her more than her family and friends. She’s labelled as a ‘Fallen’ woman and therefore, without any shred of credible reputation—a must have if a woman is to survive in Elizabethan England.
Richly drawn, and fully immersed in the period, The Locksmith’s Daughter all but showcases not only Elizabethan England, but London of the time period. The dialogue is as authentic as the author can get it without going overboard, and brings a lively feel to her descriptions, which for me at least, really nailed down the settings and scenes. Right down to the gruesome descriptions of the Tyburn executions of the priest, Edmund Campion—who was hung, drawn, and then, quartered.
The smells, sights and descriptions make the setting, while the characters themselves, bring the whole story to life vividly, full of emotion, doubt, swagger and fear, so much so, I’m sure Shakespeare would have applauded! I have to say that, by the end of this novel, I felt as if the author had been writing about a ‘real’ person, such was the depth to Mallory Bright, her family and friends, and the rest of the cast that rounded out this ensemble.
From Mallory’s wonderfully drawn father, Gideon, to his wife, Valentina, and those ensconced in Harp Lane. Through to Mallory’s eventual love interest, Lord Nathaniel Warham, his sister Beatrice, and to the seemingly benign Sir Francis Walsingham—Secretary to Elizabeth herself, and her spymaster extraordinaire. Even the bit players who entered stage left, had their moment in the spotlight, and exited stage right were all fully fleshed out some—like the torturer Thomas Norton—real historical people from that time period, who the author skilfully weaves into her narrative as if they belonged there.
I cannot praise The Locksmith’s Daughter enough. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of Mallory’s heartbreaking story, from her rough beginnings through to a number of harrowing confrontation. I loved the way the author takes us into the very heart of her despair but, without losing hope, shows us how she not only survives the brutality thrown at her but, in the end, also finds she still has the capacity to forgive and find love.
THE LOCKSMITH’S DAUGHTER
William Morrow, 2018
Paperback, 566 pages