Traitor’s Knot begins in 1645 with the Battle of Naseby where the New Model Army commanded by Sir Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell all but destroyed the Royalist army. James Hart, a Royalist captain, despite the hardening influence of three years at war, is shocked to his core when, in his escape from pursuing Roundheads, he discovers that the slaughter has extended even to the Royalist camp followers. These were, for the most part, Welsh women following their men, providing care such as nursing, sewing, cooking and companionship.
Five years on the King has been executed and the country is coming to uneasy terms with the new regime, struggling with their consciences, holding their tongues and making the adjustments necessary for survival in a world where both public and private life must be lived under the godly rules of the fervent Puritans governing the new Commonwealth. Although James Hart is now a humble ostler at the Chequer and Crowne Inn in Warwick, he has not forgotten that those in power are still the enemy and what they are capable of, nor has he cast aside his loyalty to the Crown. When necessary, he indulges in highway robbery, relieving wealthy Puritans of their coin which he uses either to aid those suffering under the unfair imposts of the new regime, or to set aside for use when the exiled young king, Charles Stuart, makes his bid to claim his crown.
When he holds up a carriage carrying passengers to Warwick, the disguised Hart is challenged by a young woman, Elizabeth Seton. Elizabeth is angered by the terror Hart has created in another female passenger and reluctantly lets slip that her father was a Royalist sympathizer. Elizabeth’s mother has died and she is on her way from Dorset to live with her aunt, Isabel Stanborowe, rather than stay with her sister who is married to a censorious Parliamentary man. Life over the past few years has been difficult for Elizabeth as she and her mother have been shunned since her father was killed in an abortive Royalist uprising in Weymouth.
After an initial coolness, Elizabeth finds her place with Isabel where she is able to both learn and to use her skills in herbs and physic on the many who come to her aunt for help with their ailments. But life cannot run smoothly in such unsettled times. Elizabeth has attracted the attentions of not only James Hart, but also of Lieutenant Ezekiel Hammond who has been appointed constable and is determined to capture the highwayman. Because of his position, Elizabeth is careful in her attempts to rebuff the excruciatingly godly Hammond, so careful that he misreads them as encouragement. Wary of both men and their intentions, Elizabeth learns that there more far more to James Hart, and that in Ezekiel Hammond danger not only to herself but to those she cares about. To complicate matters further, the man to whom James Hart has pledged loyalty, Charles Stuart, lands in Scotland to claim his throne.
Cryssa Bazos vividly brings the mid-17th century to life in both its beauty and its squalor. Her characters are well-rounded and believable, people of their time, yet driven by dreams and hopes understandable to the modern reader. The relationship of James Hart and Elizabeth Seton is so beautifully drawn that days after finishing the book, I am still thinking of them.
From the first page the story never falters; the second half is an absolute page turner, so compelling and tense that this particular reader could not put the book down, even though it meant staying up until almost 3 o’clock (and I had work the next day!). Bazos’s prose is by turns beautiful and riveting; she writes as skilfully of tenderness and human frailty as she does a gripping battle scene.
Traitor’s Knot is a wonderful novel that deserves every accolade it has received. Another review can be found here.