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Ten authors you should know about, who write about the 17th Century #HistFic

The Seventeenth Century is undergoing a bit of a revival, with best-selling authors like Philippa Gregory and Tracy Borman, all getting in on the act. Here is my first of two posts recommending authors who write about this period in European history.

Of course in England the 17th Century is rich pickings with the over-turning of the monarchy, a bitter civil war, new advances in science and medicine, not to mention the witch-hunts and religious persecutions. And London, England’s capital was besieged by war, plague and fire.

But there are many other authors writing about this period whose books should not be overlooked. Here’s a list of ten I can heartily recommend. Click on their names to find all their books.

L.C Tyler – the John Grey mysteries are wonderful who-dunnits and there is a lovely wit and irony to these books.

Alison Stuart – Her Guardians of the Crown series set in the English Civil Wars is full of swashbuckling, difficult choices, and romance.

M J Logue – Her ‘Uncivil War’ series and her Thomazine and Major Russell books have an insider’s view of the period and great characters.

Anna Belfrage – if you like time-travel you will enjoy being transported back to 17th Century Scotland in her gripping nine book series The Graham Saga.

Graham Brack – The Master Mercurius books of the 1670’s featuring a cleric who is both Catholic and Protestant are intricate well-researched mysteries with a dash of humour.

Cryssa Bazos – Her acclaimed romances in the ‘Knot’ series are much more than that. Expect impeccable research plenty of action and a thrilling ride.

Elizabeth St John – lovingly authentic reconstruction of a family’s difficulties through the 17th Century, rich with the real intrigue and political strife of the day.

J G Harlond – The Chosen Man Trilogy is chock full of seafaring, spies and treachery in the 1630s and beyond.

Linda Lafferty – her books about Caravaggio and Atremisia Gentileschi shows us the 17th Century movers and shakers in the art world.

Pamela Belle – The Heron Quartet and The Wintercombe Series provide us with fantastic insights into the life of the English Manor and the changing allegiances of its inhabitants during the 17th Century.

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Blog Reviews

Severed Knot : Ingenio – Sugar in 17th Century Barbados

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Congratulations to Cryssa Bazos on the release of her romantic thriller, Severed Knot.

The novel is set mostly on a 17th Century sugar plantation in Barbados. Here’s Cryssa to tell us more about what the manufacture of sugar involved.

Ingenio

We have a complicated history with sugar. For some it’s an indulgent weakness while others ruthlessly purge it from their diets. Since the seventeenth century, the demand for sugar has been responsible for expansion and colonization of the West Indies. But where does it come from and how is it produced? There is a science to convert liquid cane juice into sugar. In the seventeenth-century, all the equipment used for sugar production was referred to as the ingenio, which included the crushers and coppers, as well as the buildings where the sugar was processed.

Cutting and Crushing

Through experimentation, seventeenth-century planters found the best yields were achieved by harvesting cane between twelve to fifteen months. Field workers would cut the sugarcane by hand and pile the stalks vertically into ox-drawn carts. Once the wagon arrived at the crushing mill, they tipped back the cart to offload the stalks neatly where they could be quickly gathered and taken to the mill. It was important for the sugarcane to be crushed within hours of being cut in order to maximize the yields. The cane passed through the rollers in the crushing mill and the sap was separated and collected into a series of pipes that ran downward from the crushing house to the boiling house.

cryssa fullsizeoutput_f71Processing

In the boiling house, the juice passed through a series of seven large coppers. As the juice went through a first boiling, it would then pass to a second copper and from there to a third, fourth and fifth. Through each pass, the impurities would be removed and the sap would grow more concentrated. The skimmings from the last three boiling coppers would be diverted to the still house and used to make rum. The last two coppers were used to cool the syrup. The entire process would take about six days, and the furnaces in the boiling house would be working non-stop, day and night.

After the thickened syrup was sufficiently cooled, the mixture would be transferred to clay containers that were stored in the curing house. A large plantation with a couple of hundred acres devoted to sugarcane would need a large enough curing house. Such a structure was designed to hold  approximately eighteen-hundred tapered pots. The shape of the pots allowed the molasses to collect at the bottom of the vessel, making it easy to siphon off.

Curing

Brown muscovado sugar took approximately a month to fully cure, whereas refined white sugar needed four months and additional processing to draw out all the molasses. In order to draw out most of the molasses, a plaster of clay and water would be mixed and poured over the tops of the pots and left to harden. After the four-month curing period, the clay containers would be broken open revealing a sandwich of sugars: top and bottom were muscovado sugar while the middle would be white sugar.

Sugar was an extremely valuable commodity and the refined white sugar even more so. Around mid-seventeenth century, white sugar could fetch about 20 pence per pound in London. To put this in perspective, a labourer’s wages during the Stuart Age this time was approximately 12 pence. A labourer would have had to work a little more than a day and a half to afford one pound of sugar.

Sugar was truly a luxury item.
REVIEW OF SEVERED KNOT

I really enjoyCryssa Severed Knot eBook Cover Largeed this tense and romantic thriller and highly recommend it if you want a page-turning read that will leave you enthralled and breathless. Set in the 17th Century after the King has been exiled, it tells the story of Iain and Mairead, one Scottish, the other Irish, when they are captured, shipped to Barbados, and taken into forced servitude. A bleak and brutal life awaits them on a sugar plantation, where people are expendable and treated as beasts of burden. The plot moves swiftly from one set piece to the next, as the newly-arrived exiles try to find their feet in a horrific new world of slavery and repression. Iain’s clan of supporters are all individuals, and Cryssa Bazos’s gritty dialogue adds to the building tension in this powder-keg of servants versus masters.

However, although the central lynchpin of the plot is the unfolding relationship between Mairead and Iain, this is not just a romance, the history is extremely well-researched, and the author gives us authentic detail about sugar manufacture, the war with the Dutch, the plight of the Irish under the Commonwealth, and much more besides. The writing is smooth, with plenty of historical references to keep the reader anchored in the past, and there are enough battles to make this a story to be savoured by those who like plenty of action. Mairead is a character  you’ll love to root for – determined and stubborn, she never gives up on her quest for freedom and the man she loves.

A brilliant book, well worth your time and money.

More about Cryssa Bazos:

Cryssa Bazos is an award-winning historical fiction author and 17th-century enthusiast with a particular interest in the English Civil War. Her debut novel, Traitor’s Knot, was the Medalist winner of the 2017 New Apple Award (historical fiction), a finalist for the 2018 EPIC eBook Awards (historical romance) and the RNA Joan Hessayon Award. Her second novel, Severed Knot, was longlisted for the Historical Novel Society 2018 New Novel Award.

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Buy The Books : Traitor’s Knot  Severed Knot 

About Severed Knot

Barbados 1652. In the aftermath of the English Civil War, the vanquished are uprooted and scattered to the ends of the earth.

When marauding English soldiers descend on Mairead O’Coneill’s family farm, she is sold into slavery. After surviving a harrowing voyage, the young Irish woman is auctioned off to a Barbados sugar plantation where she is thrust into a hostile world of depravation and heartbreak. Though stripped of her freedom, Mairead refuses to surrender her dignity.

Scottish prisoner of war Iain Johnstone has descended into hell. Under a blazing sun thousands of miles from home, he endures forced indentured labour in the unforgiving cane fields. As Iain plots his escape to save his men, his loyalties are tested by his yearning for Mairead and his desire to protect her.

With their future stolen, Mairead and Iain discover passion and freedom in each other’s arms.  Until one fateful night, a dramatic chain of events turns them into fugitives.

Together they fight to survive; together they are determined to escape.

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Blog

Two contrasting novels of the 17th century #HistFic

I am always fascinated by the different writing styles that conjure an era, and these two contrasting books prove that there is no one style to bring an era to life. Both books are great reads and I recommend them.

Traitor’s Knot by Cryssa Bazos

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This is a wonderful novel – richly detailed and full of the jargon and phraseology of the period. Set just as Prince Charles (later to be Charles II) is making his escape during the English Civil Wars, it centres around the difficult choices and strained allegiances that marked the tension of the Interregnum.

“Are we then to bow and scrape before these turncoats?”

“There is no other viable choice,” Piers said. “Ireland is being carved up by Cromwell while France offers nothing more than sympathy. Clearly, this marks our monarch as pragmatic, a trait sadly missing in his sire. We all must agree this is an improvement.”

“Why? Because he is willing to negotiate his morals?” Blount said.

“Life is a negotiation, death is not,” Piers snapped.

James Hart, a highwayman, (modelled on the real-life Royalist highwaymen of the day such as Hind) is defying Cromwell’s Oath of Allegiance, and making his own rules by not only robbing the rich to feed the poor, but by continuing to support the Crown against the Commonwealth. He falls for Elizabeth Seton, a herbalist and healer, who has chosen to leave her family for a distant aunt, rather than be condemned to life in her sister’s staunchly Puritanical household. When the two characters meet, they find they have much in common, and the romance soon grows wings. Elizabeth’s aunt is a supporter of the Knot, a fictional organisation that gives safe houses to Catholic recusants, and Elizabeth is drawn into helping them. However, The King needs James’s assistance, and our highwayman hero must leave Elizabeth prey to another suitor – the preacher who will show no mercy if he were to uncover a royalist, and a woman who supports papists, in their midst.

Cryssa Bazos is equally at home writing battle scenes as writing romance, and the pace keeps the reader turning the pages. The book is chock-full of historical facts, and these are seamlessly woven into the plot. Fans of English Civil War fiction will lap this up, and it would also suit readers who enjoy classic historical fiction by for example Kathleen Winsor, Georgette Heyer, Michael Arnold or Pamela Belle.

The Witchfinder’s Siser by Beth Underdown

Witchfinders Sister

“For it is a choice, I think, to close the heart, just as it is a choice to open it. It is a choice to look at what distresses you, and a choice to shut your eyes. It is a choice to hold tight your pain, or else let it slip your grasp, set it free to make its mark upon the world.”

Set in 1645, this is a story based on the real events surrounding the Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins, and his fictional half-sister Alice. After her husband’s death, Alice returns home to Manningtree after many years absence, and hopes to find a good home with her brother. Her position in the household is precarious, but worse, Matthew has changed from the boy she remembers, and what she encounters now is a zealot, hell-bent on ridding the county of witches.

Beth Underdown succeeds in putting us in Alice’s shoes; we feel her discomfort that she must be witness to her brother’s manipulation of the evidence and his tortures of the women in his enthusiasm to get a confession. Alice is a believable character – she is not a modern woman, she too is fearful of the devil and sensitive to the unseen, and this makes her complicity with events more likely. Matthew was burned in a childhood accident, and Alice loves her brother and wants some sort of redemption for this oddly scarred human-being she remembers. Instead, she finds herself caught in his powerful world-view, which sounds plausible but which feels so wrong. In this isolated community, gossip, suspicions and accusations soon spread, with chilling results.

“The number of women my brother Matthew killed, as far as I can reckon it, is one hundred and six.”

The writing style is simple and sparse, but each word is carefully chosen. The reader has to think carefully about the ramifications of the revelations in each scene, and this makes the pace a leisurely one, but one to savour. The slow build of suspense is masterfully done. This novel will appeal to those fascinated by the Salem Witch Trials, who can find parallels in the English equivalent, and would suit fans of Geraldine Brooks, Tracy Chevalier, or Rose Tremain.