The Silvered Heart by Katherine Clements (published by Headline, who provided a review copy via NetGalley) is a good-old fashioned, swashbuckling bodice-ripper. It is loosely based on the real life story of Lady Katherine Ferrers, the infamous Wicked Lady: a 17th Century highwayman.
Katherine Clements has based her novel around what we know about Lady Katherine from the historical record. A wealthy heiress, she was married at a very young age to a relative, but her fortune was spent keeping her husband’s family’s estates afloat during the punitive taxes imposed on Royalists after the Civil War. She is widely believed to have turned to highway robbery during her husband’s lengthy absences from home, and to have died from a gunshot wound sustained during a robbery.
Lady Katherine’s story contains two key mysteries: records of a child who died in infancy but who must have been conceived while her husband was imprisoned, and rumours of an accomplice – Ralph Chaplin – who was caught and hanged shortly before her death.
Clements extrapolates on what we know with great skill to deliver a page-turning piece of historical fiction. Her Lady Katherine is an abused and neglected wife. Her husband leaves her to mind his estate, which was left devastated during the Civil War, while he spends most of his time in London. A staunch Royalist, he becomes heavily involved in plots to restore Charles II to the throne. With little to live on, Lady Katherine turns to highway robbery to alleviate the poverty she finds herself in. She teams up with Rafe Chaplin, the brother of her companion.
The Lady Katherine Clements gives us is arrogant and self-centred, in part as a result of the treatment she has received from her husband, but she has to be admired for her resourcefulness and tenacity. The other characters are sketched out well enough, but with little depth: all charismatic villains, saintly friends and loyal servants. Hilary Mantel this isn’t: it’s more Philippa Gregory crossed with chick-lit, but The Silvered Heart is a highly enjoyable, light read.
Goodreads rating: 3*