'The distant thrum of galloping hooves conjures nothing but doubt and fear these days.'
1648: Civil war is devastating England. The privileged world Katherine Ferrars knows is crumbling under Cromwell's army, and as an orphaned heiress, she has no choice but to do her duty and marry for the sake of family.
But as her marriage turns into a prison, and her fortune is decimated by the war, Kate becomes increasingly desperate. So when she meets the enigmatic Ralph Chaplin, she seizes the chance he offers. Their plan is daring and brutal, but it's an escape from poverty and the shackles of convention. They both know if they're caught, there's only one way it can end...
I was a little confused at first as I became sure I'd read it before but knew it was brand new, then I reaised that Ive read another book based on the life of Kate Ferrars the highwaywoman which was by Deborah Swift called Shadow on the Highway which was more of a young adult story based on the same character. Both books are well researched with great historical detail so I felt as though I was revisiting an old friend.
Set in the mid 17th century Kate Ferrars has led a rather privileged life brought up in a grand home Markyate Cell, when the book begins she is a young woman on the brink of marriage to a man she barely knows as was so often the case in that era the choices for a woman were remarkably limited, marry or be penniless even though she is minor aristocracy she has no status as a single woman.
Just before her wedding a horrible event taints her life and way of thinking and, in her belief, triggers a thread of wickedness in her which is about to haunt her. Although I could quite easily comprehend what led her to make many of the decisions she does in later life and I don't condemn her for her life on the fringe of respectability, what I found more wicked in some ways than her actions was her selfishness.
Locked in a loveless marriage her relationship with her maid Rachel is a closer friendship than one would expect between mistress and maid. Rachel is really her only friend and she doesn't always treat her well. That Kate looks outside her marriage for love and excitement isn't unexpected and makes for an exciting story. She grasps at the chance of independence and thrills when she joins a highwayman in his adventures and that they end up in a passionate relationship is hardly a surprise, neither is her descent to ruin.
There are a couple of characters I'd really like to know more about, e.g. the story behind Martha Coppin who is an influential secondary character I was fascinated by.
The story flows beautifully and creates a tense and compelling atmosphere you can't help but be drawn deeply into putting Katherine Clements firmly on the map and an author I will eagerly watch for again in future.