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The King's Spy by Andrew Swanston

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Manda Scott
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The King's Spy by Andrew Swanston

Post by Manda Scott » Tue May 15th, 2012, 3:17 pm

The King's Spy (Thomas Hill Trilogy 1)

I'm on at panel at the Kelmarsh Festival of Historical Literature with Andrew Swanston on Sunday 15th July so when his debut novel, The King's Spy, became available in uncorrected proof form, I fell on it and put everything else on the TBR pile to one side. And well worth it, too: this is an excellent first novel; entertaining, informative, revealing with well-drawn characters and an ever-twisting plot. Full review below:

Summer: 1643. England is at war with itself. King Charles I has fled London for Oxford and is being pursued by the anti-royalist faction. The country is consumed by bloodshed. For Thomas Hill, a man of letters, quietly running his bookshop in the sleepy rural backwater of Romsey, the war is a rumour, not yet real. But Thomas is a code-breaker, a mathematician of some serious skill and the King has need of his services.

Thomas is an engaging, bookish man. He abhors violence, but is pleasantly competent when the need arises. He is a good maker and breaker of codes, and for those of us who don't know the ins and outs of codebreaking, he's good at explaining what he's doing. He encodes missives for the King, and decodes those that are captured from the enemy. Most of them are dull in the extreme; the outpourings of men who seek to prove their own worth. But then a code arrives that stands out from the rest: it's complex, subtle and doesn't yield to the standard code-breaking techniques. It is, in fact, a Vigenere cipher, a form of code that is 70 years old and has never been broken. He believes he can do it; and others agree - which is why he is harassed, bullied, assaulted and eventually framed for the murder of his old mentor: there is a traitor close to the king who will do whatever it takes to protect himself.

This is a book about codes, but it wraps itself neatly around the events of the English Civil War, and highlights the value of information, and of informants, in wars where both sides speak the same language, share the same culture and are fighting as bitterly as only former friends can. There's a love interest, which comes to a surprising conclusion, a sense of danger and of friendships formed and deepening and a scholarly insight into the destruction of Oxford by the Royalists to whom it had given succour. At the end, the villain is neatly not-quite-removed, giving us the opportunity of a second book.

All in all, this is a highly satisfying read. It's not blood and thunder, although people who need a book to contain a battle before they'll read it, will have their wish fulfilled. But this is about far more than battles; the interest is in the ciphers themselves, and the way they can change the course of history. The book launches on the 2nd of August, although I'm reliably informed there will be copies for sale at Kelmarsh. Come along and find one there: and have it signed by the man himself.
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Post by SGM » Tue May 15th, 2012, 5:56 pm

is this the second in a series?

I see that Amazon also has one by the same author called "The King's Codebreaker" which has already been published.

I just wondered what the relationship is between the two books.
Currently reading - Emergence of a Nation State by Alan Smith

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Post by Manda Scott » Mon May 21st, 2012, 12:42 pm

As far as I know, this is his first... I'm wondering if they changed the title at a late date and 'codebreaker' was a working title? I know that for a long time, they had Boudica; Dreaming the Hare on Amazon which was my working title for the Serpent Spear book...

Either that or it's a case of the US book having a different title. I know Laura Wilson had to rename one of her books because the allusion in the title made no sense in the US ('Goodbye Bunny Alice' became 'Telling Lies to Alice' I think)

Will ask and look into it.

m
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Boudica: Dreaming. INTO THE FIRE out in June 2015: Forget what you thought you knew, this changes everything.

[url=http:www.mandascott.co.uk]http:www.mandascott.co.uk[/url]

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The King's Spy

Post by [email protected] » Thu May 24th, 2012, 11:21 am

Sorry for the confusion - clever of you to spot the connection as The King's Codebreaker was published under a nom-de-plume, Andrew Douglas.

I self-published the Codebreaker in 2010 ( I think it is now sold out and Amazon have been asked to remove it ), as a result of which Transworld offered me a three-book contract, of which the first was to be an enlarged and revised version of The King's Codebreaker. This became The King's Spy, out in hardback on 2 August. Same story but different, if you know what I mean.

Hope this helps. Andrew

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