This is the third book in KJ Maitland’s 17th century mystery series and continues Daniel Pursglove’s search for the mysterious Spero Pettingar. If you haven’t read the first two (The Drowned City and Traitor in the Ice) I strongly recommend that you do so before starting this book. Even though I’ve read both of them, the plot is so complex I found it difficult to keep track of what was happening at times, so I think coming straight to this book could be quite confusing.
The series is set in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, a failed attempt by Catholic conspirators to blow up the Houses of Parliament and assassinate the King (James I of England and VI of Scotland). In the first book, Daniel Pursglove was released from Newgate Prison by the King’s advisor, FitzAlan, on the condition that he would hunt down and identify one of the escaped conspirators, a man known only as Spero Pettingar. As Rivers of Treason opens, Daniel has still not caught Spero but the mystery surrounding his whereabouts continues to deepen.
It’s now 1607 and the Great Frost that has held England in its grip during the winter is beginning to thaw. Without FitzAlan’s permission, Daniel has headed north to his childhood home in Yorkshire, not on the King’s business this time, but hoping to find answers about his own past. When an old woman is found murdered, however, Daniel finds himself under suspicion and is forced to flee across the country, pursued by a sinister man with a distinctive black and white beard. Has Daniel stumbled upon the trail of Spero Pettingar at last or has he become caught up in another, even bigger conspiracy?
I enjoyed this book, despite feeling that there was too much going on, a criticism I’ve had of the first two books in the series as well. I would have preferred a tighter focus on the central mystery, which often seems to get lost under the numerous subplots Maitland throws into the story. Having said that, some of the subplots were quite fascinating, such as one involving a London apothecary commissioned by the King to make an antidote to poison. After narrowly avoiding death in the Gunpowder Plot, it’s understandable that James has developed a paranoia about further attempts on his life! During Daniel’s time in Yorkshire, meanwhile, we learn a little bit more about our protagonist’s past and although I still don’t feel that we know him very well, it was good to have some questions answered.
I also love the atmosphere Maitland creates in this series, making it easy to feel immersed in the early 17th century, particularly where she describes the lives of the ordinary people Daniel meets on his travels but also in her descriptions of the Jacobean court. In this book, we follow the preparations for an elaborate masque (play or entertainment) written by the playwright Ben Jonson, with the set and costumes designed by the architect Inigo Jones. Jonson and Jones really did collaborate on many court masques, but this is the first time I’ve read about their work together, so I found that aspect of the story interesting.
Rivers of Treason finishes on something of a cliffhanger, leaving us wondering what Daniel is going to do next. I hope we won’t have to wait too long for the next book so that we can find out!
Thanks to Headline Review for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.
This is book 13/50 read for the 2023 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.