The Roots of Betrayal by James Forrester

The Roots of Betrayal by James Forrester

1564: Catholic herald William Harley, Clarenceux King of Arms, is the custodian of a highly dangerous document. When it is stolen, Clarenceux immediately suspects a group of Catholic sympathisers, the self-styled Knights of the Round Table. Francis Walsingham, the ruthless protégé of the queen’s Principal Secretary, Sir William Cecil, intercepts a coded message from the Knights to a Countess known to have Catholic leanings. He is convinced that Clarenceux is trying to use the document to advance the cause of the Catholic Queen. And soon Clarenceux enters a nightmare of suspicion, deception and conspiracy. Conflict and fear, compounded by the religious doubts of the time, conceal a persistent mystery. Where has the document gone? Who has it and who really took it? And why? The roots of betrayal are deep and shocking: and Clarenceux’s journey towards the truth entails not just the discovery of clues and signs, but also the discovery of himself.

A little over a year ago I read Sacred Treason by James Forrester – the Pen name of Ian Mortimer – and was immediately hooked into the trials and tribulations of William Harley and his family in 16th century England. In The Roots of Betrayal, the second of a trilogy featuring Clarenceux King of Arms, Harley is back with a vengeance determined to ensure the safety of not only his family but a document that would have serious repercussions around England – the Percy/Boleyn marriage agreement – should it be discovered and used to bring down the reign of Elizabeth.

In his author notes at the end of his book, James Forrester reemphasises that The Roots of Betrayal is a work of pure fiction and should not be considered historically accurate. That’s all well and good but for someone – me – with incredibly limited knowledge of the Elizabethan era I absorbed his narrative with gusto and found myself living the life of a gentleman in the late 16th century.  For me, the main goal of an historical fiction book is to entertain and give the reader a flavour of what life could have been like, I stress could. In The Roots of Betrayal the sights, sounds and incredibly pungent aromas come alive and you – as the reader – are effortlessly transported back into a time when religion played a key role in shaping a country where Catholicism was illegal and various conspiratorial gatherings necessary to keep the religion alive.

As I have already alluded in this review the narrative is incredibly taut and flows unhindered throughout. Forrester takes great pains to allow old and new readers to catch up with Harley’s exploits in the first book and because of this the book takes a few chapters to find its feet and begin a new adventure. This does of course allow new readers to gain a flavour of William Harley and means that the necessity to read the first book isn’t key to enjoying this second instalment. However, from someone who has now read both titles, I urge you to read Sacred Treason before you tackle this novel; if only to gain a greater insight into Harley’s methodology and great brain.

Halfway through the novel it suddenly dawned on me that William Harley, Clarenceux King of Arms is the 16th century’s answer to Lee Child’s Jack Reacher! This guy is amazing. Strong willed, powerful, intelligent and incredibly resourceful Harley finds himself in situations few could hope or manage to escape. He can handle a gun, use his fists, fires a cannon and of course is incredibly adept at sword fencing – is there anything this guy can’t do?

The story is powerful and with a few twists and turns along the way The Roots of Betrayal will have you guessing right to the very end with a twist I certainly didn’t see coming. With a new story comes a whole new set of characters, both good and evil, and not once did I find any superfluous to the main storyline. Francis Walsingham is back and continues his great dislike and battle with Harley and William Cecil is there to temper his aggressive stance but doesn’t always manage to rein him in. The introduction of Raw Carew, a pirate with a certain degree of morals, is intriguing to say the least and second in importance to Harley. He plays a pivotal role both on and off the treacherous seas and is certainly influential to the plot. Wonderful characterisation I found myself loving the goodies and hating the baddies – but isn’t that always the case? Forrester certainly ramps up the emotion in this book.

Enthusiastically taught, The Roots of Betrayal is an excellent addition to the Harley tale and I for one can’t wait to read the final instalment in the summer of 2012 when Forrester delivers The Final Sacrament. Addictive and imaginative, Elizabethan society has never been more attractive!

Published by Headline, The Roots of Betrayal is available in Hardback & Kindle.

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1 Response » to “The Roots of Betrayal by James Forrester – Book Review”

  1. Laura Watts says:

    Great review! I am smitten and now must read all three!

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