A Net for Small Fishes by Lucy Jago

 ‘The servant led the way as if into battle, his torch throwing the monstrous shadows of my form against the walls.’

London, January 1609. Frances ‘Frankie’ Howard, unhappily married to Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, meets Anne Turner, mother of six, married to Doctor George Turner, summoned by Frankie’s mother, the Countess of Suffolk:

‘I have heard you are talented with apparel.’

An unlikely friendship is formed between Anne and Frankie. Frankie is trapped in a miserable marriage, while Anne’s fortunes change suddenly when her husband dies.

I did not know, when I started reading this novel, that it was based on real events. Frankie wants to be free of her marriage to Devereux, while Anne struggles to keep her family together while awaiting a marriage proposal. The court of James VI and I is full of rivalry, the king himself is insecure and fond of his male favourites. Frankie pursues an affair with Viscount Robert Carr, a favourite of the king, and a plot is hatched.

‘We do not know the significance of some events until they are long gone; others are heavy with import from the moment they begin.’

Ms Jago captures the politics and intrigue of the times, the desperation of Frankie to escape her marriage and remove barriers to marriage with Robert Carr. Anne is our narrator, and it is through her eyes we see the court as she struggles in her own reduced circumstances, waiting for a promised offer of marriage to save her.

An engrossing work of historical fiction. Ms Jago has taken the facts and brought the main characters to life. Recommended.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith