1648: Civil war is devastating England. The privileged world of Katherine Ferrers is crumbling under Cromwell’s army and, as an orphaned heiress, she has no choice but to marry for the sake of family.
But as her marriage turns into a prison and her fortune is forfeit, Katherine becomes increasingly desperate. So when she meets a man who shows her a way out, she seizes the chance. It is dangerous and brutal, and she knows if they’re caught, there’s only one way it can end…
The mystery of Lady Katherine Ferrers, legendary highwaywoman, has captured the collective imagination of generations. Now, based on the real woman, the original ‘Wicked Lady’ is brought gloriously to life in this tale of infatuation, betrayal and survival.
After her wonderful debut novel The Crimson Ribbon, which focused on the Parliamentarian side of the English Civil War, Katherine Clements presents us with an account of those on the losing side with her second novel The Silvered Heart. Using the story of the legendary Wicked Lady as a frame, Clements tells the story of Lady Katherine Ferrers, a noblewoman who lost everything due to the Civil War and as a consequence was reputed to have turned to highway robbery. It makes for an exciting story, but one that delivers a surprisingly strong emotional punch as well.
When we first meet Katherine Ferrers, or Kate, she’s just thirteen and travelling to her wedding. She’s to be married off for convenience, not love, but she is hopeful anyway. Travelling the roads in Civil War Britain is a dangerous proposition and so Kate doesn’t arrive at her destination unscathed. I felt deeply for this young girl who arrives at her wedding traumatised and who without being given time to actually breathe is forced into a union neither partner seems to desire. And it is good that she caught my sympathy so early on, because Kate isn’t always an easy character to like. She can be wilful, selfish and blind to the consequences of her actions to others.
We meet numerous secondary characters, but there are a handful among that stand out as major ones: Rachel Chaplin, her brother Rafe, Kate’s husband Thomas, Martha Coppin, and Richard Willis. These five play seminal roles in Kate’s life and they are quite complex characters. The way Clements develops them through Kate’s eyes and yet allowing the reader to perceive that they might not be exactly who Kate thinks they are, is masterfully done. This is especially true for Rachel, who is Kate’s best friend and maidservant, and for Thomas, Kate’s husband, whose actions and treatment of Kate can often easily be interpreted in different ways. Clements skilfully wields the inherent subjectivity of a first person narrator, without making Kate an unreliable narrator.
The Silvered Heart is a fascinating exploration of privilege and the effects of its loss. When Parliament wins the war and executes the king, the old nobility that took his side loses much in the way of standing and fortune, leaving many destitute and struggling to survive. It is sobering to see how dismayed they are at their changed circumstances and how convinced many of them are that this goes against the natural order. Kate’s automatic assumption that she deserves the station and luxury she was born to, her expectation for her inheritance to be restored and her refusal to accept the changed status quo, seems to have been the rule rather than the exception. Rafe challenges this and tries to make her see sense, but it is a hard lesson for Kate to assimilate. Yet we also see that those who have gained wealth and power through the Civil War are loathe to give it up and lose their new-found privilege. Clements may not have been thinking of this, but I found it quite relevant to today’s world.
The exploration of privilege also made me question why Kate rebelled. Was Kate’s defiance of custom and law due to her straitened circumstances, her desire for a less-restricted life than that of a lady, or her anger at the loss of privilege? How much of her resentment towards Thomas was due to his not being able to provide what she expected as her due? Kate is an independent spirit and as such she might not have been suited to the regimented life of a wife of noble birth, yet some of the reasons for her anger seem to go beyond her having to conform to society’s expectations of a wife. Clements manages to make the reader sympathetic to Kate’s plight and her actions understandable, without blinding us to the more unpleasant realities of Kate’s character, which is an admirable accomplishment.
Reading The Crimson Ribbon and The Silvered Heart back to back allowed me to see some interesting similarities and contrasts. The contrasts are easily spotted. Where the former dealt with those on the side of Parliament, the latter deals with Royalists, and while the former is limited to roughly the three years leading up to and around the king’s beheading, the latter runs far longer, until after the Restoration. The similarities are perhaps less obvious, but striking nonetheless. In both cases our protagonists are young girls on the cusp of womanhood and in both cases they are orphaned. Both Ruth and Kate feel the loss of their mothers keenly and try to replace their close bond with them with another; in Ruth’s case she finds its replacement in Lizzie, in Kate’s case it is Rachel. Though the sort of friendship and relationship between them is quite different, in both cases it is a relationship that allows them to change and grow into the women they come to be. It’ll be interesting to see whether Clements explores a similar bond in her next novel or whether it was just a happy coincidence in these narratives.
I loved The Silvered Heart. Katherine Ferrers makes for a captivating heroine and when I had to put down the book because it was time for bed, I dreamt about the characters, woke up and finished the book. I just had to know With her second novel Katherine Clements establishes her credentials as a fabulous writer and a master storyteller. I can’t wait to see where she goes next.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.