Quite simply, it's brilliant. An evocative rendering of the early years of James I/VI, an intense thriller, a gripping read. What amazes me is that the author, Martin Stephen, doesn't seem to be on any recommended reading lists, or not ones that I've seen. I don't normally go in for historical fiction, but I picked up one of his books before and was, quite frankly, hooked.
I have one quibble with the series, and it's this: what order are these books supposed to go in?! I'm sure that The Desparate Remedy is the first that was published (one sec, checking Fantastic Fiction... Yep, it is). But it seems to be the last chronologically. Also, according to the same source, the most recent was back in 2006. I hope there's more, I've nearly run out, I managed to find an omnibus in a charity shop today which had the only two I hadn't read.
The more I learn about Elizabethan and Jacobean England, the more intrigued I become, and the more convinced that these books are excellent portrayals of that period. Intrigue, spying, enough action to satisfy anyone who loves a good thriller (or three), mixed with a wonderful rendering of the period. The famous names are in there, and in this novel Henry Grisham, the main character, deals with the gunpowder plot. Apart from the main character and his two associates, I think all the others are real, historical figures, and from what I've seen the books tend to play around the gaps in the historical record and give a slant on what we know (or think we know) about the period. I confess I don't yet know huge amounts about the period, but these are certainly fascinating, and a much funner way of getting to the heart of the period than reading endless scholarly tomes (not, I hasten to add, that there isn't a place for such scholarly tomes, just that they can be a little drab and tend to rob the period of its drama and adventure).
I like the characters, I like the plot and the counter plot, and there's plenty of action. Real depth to the characters too, as well as to the periodisation. It's just so well brought out! If I were to learn something next month that flatly contradicted what I've read here, I'd be more inclined to believe these books than the contradiction... However, I suspect Martin Stephen has studied the period extensively, it certainly feels real.
If you're not sure whether you'd particularly like historical fiction, these books are a perfect method of convincing you that really, it's quite fantastic. Certainly they've shown me that romance doesn't have a monopoly on historical fiction (although there's certainly some of that in the book).