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“The Poison Bed,” by E.C. Fremantle

Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publication Date: June 14, 2018
Pages: 416
Format: Paperback, Hardback, Kindle, Audible.

Royal Redhead Rating: 4/5

⋅ ⋅ ⋅ Plot Summary ⋅ ⋅ ⋅ 

(As offered by the back of the novel)

Autumn, 1615.

Frances Carr is imprisoned in a cold, lightless room.
She is accused of murder.
In a cell nearby is her co-accused – her husband Robert.
Kept apart and alone, Frances can only tell her side of the story.

How did she come to be here?
Can she somehoe prove her innocence?
And what lengths will she go to save herself?

Celebrated couple Robert and Frances Carr are imprisoned on suspicion of murder.

She has been rescued from an abusive marriage by Robert, and is determined to make a new life for herself. Whatever the price.

He has risen from nothing to become one of the country’s most powerful men. But to get to the top, you cannot help making enemies.

Now a man is dead. And someone must pay with their life.

Frances knows the truth can kill. Robert knows a lie can set you free. Neither understands their marriage is a poisoned bed.

⋅ ⋅ ⋅ Review ⋅ ⋅ ⋅ 

This is a novel I am excited to tell you about. This is not your normal cup of tea, and that is a good thing in this case. Those of us who love to read historical fiction set in the Tudor period often struggle to find new perspective on people we have read and googled about till our fingers bleed and to discover new interesting historical figures. If this has been your experience, allow me to introduce to you the talented author E.C. Fremantle (Elizabeth Fremantle) and her most recent novel: The Poison Bed.

Sharp-eyed readers will notice that this book does not actually take place in the Tudor period, but in the Jacobean era during the reign of King James VI and I. Since King James was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, he was actually a Stuart. And yes, it is the King James who sponsored the translation of the Bible into English. The Bible translation we today recognise as KJV.

One of the things I love about Fremantle is her tendency to take less known historical figures from the Tudor/Jacobean time period and write them into the historical context. The less known historical figures, and the main stars of The Poison Bed, are Frances Carr, Countess of Somerset, and Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Somerset. Frances is our connection to the Tudors since she was born a Howard. That means she was cousin to both Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard.

The novel is told from two perspectives; those of Frances Howard and Robert Carr. With these two narratives Fremantle spins out a psychological historical fiction myster thriller which has been described as “The Miniaturist” that meets “Gone Girl“. Wow. What a novel. What’s there not to like? Mystery? Thriller? History? Guys, there’s even murder, romance, witchcraft and exploration of homosexuality in this novel.

I personally enjoyed the novel. I love reading about less known people. I personally love psychological thrillers and historical fiction, so this book was like a dream for me. One problem lovers of historical fiction may encounter is connected to the fact that in this novel we have, as has been mentioned, main characters that could be described as “nobodys” compared to historical figures such as Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. The funny thing about us Tudor historical fiction lovers is that we are fine about knowing what happens; who will die, who get’s married and who will win the battle. In fact, we put quite a lot of pressure on authors to keep their novels historically accurate and at the same time surprise us. Gosh, what a tough audience we are: “Write the story as I know it happened, but don’t forget to surprise me.”
By writing novels about less known historical figures, it becomes more difficult for readers to criticize authors such as E.C. Fremantle for being historically inaccurate. I believe I read somewhere that Fremantle intentionally uses figures on which we have more limited historical resources on so that she has more space to be creative.
Anyways, readers used to knowing exactly who is who and what happened will have to put the effort into getting “into” the novel, getting to know new people and accept not knowing the outcome.

I like how Fremantle wrote every Frances Carr as a three-dimensional character. She is neither whore nor victim. She is more complicated than that. Yes, she played on her husband to be with her real love, but she was injustly punished for what she did (going to avoid spoilers).

It is hard to criticize the parts of the novel I found lacking without giving spoilers. However, for my part, the good qualities of the novel easily override the more lacking areas of it. Fremantle is a great writer. It is clear and obvious that she has a BA in English and a Master’s degree in Creative Writing.

Ever since reading this novel I have been more interested in the life of Frances Carr and in the Jacobean era. For those of you who follow me on Instagram and regularly view my “Sex in Medieval Times” lessons in my stories, you may remember that Frances and her love life was the highlight of one of my recent lessons. You can find it in my IG highlight “Sex in Medieval Times”.

I highly recommend both this novel and E.C. Fremantles other works. She is my favorite historical fiction author, for sure. It is tough to get a 4 star rating on a book from me, but Fremantle succeeds in doing that.

For more information about this book and time period click here and you will be led to a very interesting arcticle written by E.C. Fremantle herself.

If you’ve read the novel, I’d love to hear your views on it in the comments below!

// Royal Redhead

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