Review: The Roots of Betrayal by James Forrester

The Roots of Betrayal by James ForresterFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, hardcover, paperback
Genre: Historical mystery, Historical fiction
Series: Clarenceaux Trilogy, #2
Length: 448 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Date Released: July 1, 2011
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Your Choice. Your Faith. Your Fate.

1564: Catholic herald William Harley, known as Clarenceux, guards a highly dangerous document. It’s a manuscript he’d rather not have—destruction and death have followed in its wake. But things get much worse when the document is stolen, and he plunges into a nightmare of suspicion, deception, and conspiracy. As England teeters on the brink of a bloody conflict, Clarenceux knows the fate of the country and countless lives hang in the balance. The roots of betrayal are deep and shocking, and the herald’s journey toward the truth entails not just the discovery of clues and signs, but also of himself.

My Review:

“The roots of betrayal lie in friendship; those of treason lie in loyalty.”

This quote could easily sum up this second volume of the trials and tribulations of William Harley, the Clarenceaux King of Arms. When you read the line, it seems so obvious, as if it should be a common saying.

Imagine my surprise to discover that the fiction author James Forrester was quoting himself (as historian Ian Mortimer) from his book The Greatest Traitor. It doesn’t make the words seem any less self-revealing, or any less “true” in the case in William Harley.

The lesson of Clarenceaux’ story could be taken as “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”, although the man seems to have a difficult time determining which are which.

And, to use our vernacular instead of his, if it wasn’t for bad luck, he wouldn’t have any at all.

History remembers the Elizabethan Age (maybe we should be calling it the First Elizabethan Age) as a Golden Age. England defeated the Spanish Armada. Shakespeare’s career flourished. Elizabeth’s reign was the time of England’s glory.

But we forget that it didn’t begin that way. Elizabeth’s reign had a shaky start. There was a significant amount of religious dispute between Catholics and Protestants. Many wanted a return to Catholicism, and fomented revolts in favor of Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth’s putative heir.

The problem with Elizabeth being the “Virgin Queen” was that virgin queens have no children to inherit their thrones.

sacred treasonInto the middle of this we have the roots of William Harley’s betrayal. In Sacred Treason (reviewed at Book Lovers Inc.) Harley is entrusted with a document proving that Queen Elizabeth was illegitimate because her mother, the executed Anne Boleyn, was pre-contracted to Henry Percy. (This was a big deal in the 1500’s)

At Anne’s trial, this was one of the many charges, but there was no documentary evidence.

There are conspirators who demand that Harley use the document to start a pro-Catholic rebellion. Harley, although he is Catholic himself, refuses. He is wise enough to know that rebellions only lead to death and repression.

Then the document is stolen from its hiding place in his house. Harley believes that he has been betrayed. But by whom?

Every single person who has ever known about that document operates on the belief that someone has betrayed their trust. Clarenceaux is certain that the widow Rebecca Machyn, his partner in misfortune in Sacred Treason, has betrayed him. Francis Walsingham, an agent of the crown, is certain that Harley has betrayed the government and is working for towards a Catholic conspiracy.

Harley’s wife Awdrey believes that Harley has betrayed their marriage vows.

Because Harley is certain that his life is forfeit for losing the document, he chases after Rebecca Machyn, believing she has the document. Walsingham chases after Harley.

Where is the document, and why was it stolen? Who is at the heart of what conspiracy? Where is the betrayal? How many betrayals are there?

Escape Rating B+: The Roots of Betrayal was every bit as much of an immersive experience as Sacred Treason. In some ways, it was better. Part of the emotion of Sacred Treason required following along with William Harley’s falling slightly in love with Rebecca Machyn, and that part didn’t work.

The Roots of Betrayal is a story of honor and betrayal. Political conspiracies and political paranoia. Lies and deceit. This time, Harley follows Rebecca because he thinks she’s stolen this document and he’s afraid for his life and the lives of his wife and children. He knows what happened last time. His house was ransacked, his possessions were destroyed, his family had to flee London. He was nearly killed.

He’s also correct that a rebellion will only end in repression and death, not just for the rebels themselves, but anyone who might be thought to be sympathetic. If the rebels are Catholic, then what little tolerance currently exists will be ruthlessly suppressed, probably in blood.

His chase leads him through dark places. He forgets everything but his need to find that document and prevent anyone from using it. He finds more honor, for certain strange definitions of that word, among thieves and pirates, than he does among supposedly ladies and gentlemen.

Sacred Treason fascinated because of the political plotting. The Roots of Betrayal is almost a “road novel”. In his desperation to find the document, Clarenceaux leaves behind his comfortable, middle-class life and finds himself in more and more desperate straits at ever turn.

The people he meets along his journey are what push the story, and the reader, forward. Each time he learns of another link in the chain, he meets a new group of amazing characters. Each person’s agenda layers on top of, or thwarts, his.

The idea that pirates have more honor than supposed gentlemen is one that sticks with you when you’re done.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Sacred Treason by James Forrester

Format Read:ebook provided by NetGalley
Number of Pages: 480 pages
Release Date: October 1, 2012
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Genre: Historical Fiction
Formats Available: Trade Paperback, ebook
Purchasing Info: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Book Depository US | Book Depository (UK) | Author’s Website | Publisher’s Website | Goodreads

Book Blurb:

London, December 1563. England is a troubled nation. Catholic plots against the young Queen Elizabeth spring up all over the country. At his house in the parish of St Bride, the herald William Harvey – known to everyone as Clarenceux – receives a book from his friend and fellow Catholic, Henry Machyn. But Machyn is in fear of his life, claiming that the book is deadly… What secret can it hold? And then Clarenceux is visited by the State in the form of Francis Walsingham and his ruthless enforcers, who will stop at nothing to gain possession of it. If Clarenceux and his family are to survive the terror of Walsingham, and to plead with the queen’s Secretary of State Sir William Cecil for their lives, Clarenceux must solve the clues contained in the book to unlock its dangerous secrets before it’s too late. And when he does, he realises that it’s not only his life and the lives of those most dear to him that are at stake…

My Thoughts:

This was originally posted at Book Lovers Inc.

Reading Sacred Treason was like being completely immersed in the world of 16th Century England (without the smells). It was bracing and marvelous and compelling from beginning to end.

It wasn’t so much the characters that drew me in as it was the evocation of the time and place. Clarenceaux finds himself in the grip of events, and for most of the book, the events he thinks he’s being gripped by aren’t the ones that are actually happening.

That’s because no one has a handle on the conspiracy that he is supposed to be ringleading. And Clarenceaux isn’t the ringleader of a conspiracy. But just as it is difficult, if not impossible, to prove a negative, it nearly proves impossible to prove that he isn’t. Especially as he begins to act guilty. Because he IS being hounded by the law.

And he is guilty of something. He is a Catholic at a time when that was, if not illegal again, certainly on its way to becoming so. The deadliness of the religious persecutions of the Elizabethan Era are not what we remember best about the same period that also gave rise to Shakespeare’s plays, but they are part of that same time and place.

Believers on both sides were burned at the stake for their faith, and which side was the wrong side had changed all too frequently in Clarenceaux’s lifetime.

Elizabeth was not yet secure on her throne in 1563, when Sacred Treason begins. Her ministers feared threats to her reign from every quarter, and with good reason. Her nearest heir was the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots, and a rising in Mary’s favor was not impossible.

It’s this backdrop, and more, that leads to the fear and plotting behind Sacred Treason.

The story of Sacred Treason is tied up in the history of the era. And the politics. And the plotting. And the ministers of government, particularly Wiliam Cecil and Francis Walsingham, making sure that Elizabeth stayed on the throne, because the thought of anything else was unthinkable.

Could they have been this paranoid? Why not? Politicians are now. Why not then?


I was riveted, to the point of staying up half the night to finish (this is almost a 500 page book!) The key difference between Sacred Treason and Before Versailles (reviewed here), a different but equally complex historical fiction epic that revolves around political plotting, is that Sacred Treason made sure to explain who the historic figures were and why they, and their actions, mattered to the non-aficionado reader.  Although the plot is key, because Clarenceaux doesn’t know what the supposed conspiracy is, everything gets explained to the reader as he figures out what is going on.

The author’s profession as a historian shows in his ability to make the era live again. The amount of detail, builds up a totally immersive experience. Clarenceaux’s world came to life as I read.

However, Clarenceaux himself sometimes didn’t. His relationships, particularly the relationship he almost has with the widow Rebecca Machyn, seemed somewhat forced. Clarenceaux is a more realistic character when he shows us what he sees and does than when the author tries to tell us what he feels.

The conspiracy and the plotting carry this story along fabulously. I give Sacred Treason four rather bloody stars. (When you read the book, you’ll understand)

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.