First Lines: “In this earthly life,” my father often said to me, “we move with real or willful blindness. But only one way leads to true darkness.”
When I saw that Anne Blankman was going to come out with a new book, I jumped on it. It didn’t matter what era it was over; it was a historical fiction and it was written by her. I wanted to try it. It was only later that I realized I know next to nothing about John Milton.
It’s been six years since Oliver Cromwell was overthrown and King Charles II took the throne. Life is returning to normal for most people…except for Elizabeth Milton. Daughter of the notorious poet John Milton, Elizabeth’s upbringing has been filled with sword fighting, foreign languages, and transcribing her father’s poems. When the King’s men come to arrest her father, Elizabeth scrambles to follow him and the mysterious clues he’s left that lead to a dangerous secret the King is trying to keep quiet. She’s accompanied on her journey by Antonio Viviani, her father’s mysterious Italian house guest. Antonio seems just as determined to protect her father as she is, but can she trust him? When Elizabeth and Antonio discover the secret, they have a choice: return to their normal lives or crack the code and potential destroy society as they know it…
I actually rather adored this. I thought the history was good and I felt like I was actually in the 1600s. I’m actually interested in British history, and there were pieces of what I had researched before that showed up here. Like there was a major event that happened in the year this story is set and I was just waiting for it to happen. It didn’t disappoint.
The history was really interesting. I liked learning about Puritan beliefs (as John Milton was a Puritan) but also about society at the time and the newest discoveries in “natural philosophy” (or what we now call science). It’s kind of funny how discoveries like the sun being the center of the universe was considered heresy, if not some form of treason. Today, it’s just totally accepted.
I thought the characters were great. Elizabeth is more of what we would call a tomboy now, but then she was just well-educated and perhaps a bit odd. Her sisters are obsessed with boys and working on their needlepoint whereas Elizabeth truly enjoys transcribing Paradise Lost for her blind father. Because of the secretive and mysterious nature of their mission, it’s really hard for her to know who she can trust and who she can’t. And that casts the most interesting shadow over the other characters.
The plot was full of twists that I didn’t see coming. Blankman does a good job of hiding the clues subtly throughout the book so that you don’t realize what’s happening until later. I actually enjoyed being blindsided by things right along with Elizabeth.
I’m actually a little surprised that there are so many people on Goodreads who aren’t finishing this book or hate it. Here’s what I think is going on: 1) this isn’t something they normally read, so it’s difficult for them to get into the story when there’s so much history right off the bat. Take those reviews with a grain of salt. 2) Some people find the characters a bit trite, that Elizabeth is too much of a feminist character, especially for her time. And I see that, I do, but that doesn’t stop me from liking her.
So really, I enjoyed this. I do want to see what they can possibly whip up for the sequel.