Book Review: Remember, Remember the 6th of November by Tony Morgan

Tony Morgan's debut novel retells the events that took place 412 years ago, at the beginning of November 1605, when English Catholics, Robert Catesby, Guy Fawkes and their co-conspirators planned to blow up England's Houses of Parliament along with the King, James I, who was also James VI of Scotland.

History records that their plans were thwarted and James I reigned for another 20 years, but what if there had been a different outcome?

I don't read novels with alternate endings to what actually happened in history, but I was intrigued by the title of this one. Why remember the 6th of

November?

James I, a Protestant, promised tolerance towards Catholics, but reneged on this promise, even though his wife, Anne of Denmark, was a secret Catholic. Disillusioned by the King's about face and the continued persecution of Catholics, Robert Catesby gathered together a group of Catholics to rid England of James I and make his daughter, the Princess Elizabeth, the new Head of State after converting her to Catholicism.

The novel opens on November 1, 1605, and takes us through each day as the conspirators finalise their preparations for the assassination of James I, scheduled for November 5th, the State Opening of Parliament.

An anonymous letter sent to Lord Monteagle, a Catholic, warning him not to attend Parliament on that day is passed on to Robert Cecil, the King's spymaster. Francis Tresham, Monteagle's brother-in-law and one of the conspirators, is accused of writing the letter. He denies it, but when he mysteriously disappears, the others are convinced that he is the culprit. Needless to say, despite the letter and the greater risk that they could be arrested at any time, the plotters carry on.

My knowledge of the reign of James I is limited, wedged as it is between the Tudors and, in my opinion, the more interesting times of Charles I and II. Although some of my best childhood memories are of Bonfire Night, since primary school I've not read any fiction/non-fiction about the historical events that were responsible for this tradition until now.

Remember, Remember the 6th of November is an informative and entertaining read where historical characters rub shoulders with fictional ones so well that it is hard to distinguish between them. Morgan addresses this by providing an appendix where all is made clear. I cannot comment on Morgan's portrayal of the historical characters as I do not know much about them, except for Robert Cecil. Feared and hated by many, the novel implies a softer side to the man's personality. He does not appear to be as ruthless and unfeeling as history proclaimed him to be. However, he is still as cunning as his nickname " the Fox" and it is proposed that he is the author of the letter to Monteagle.

Even though the outcome of the plot is well-known, Morgan still managed to instill suspense into the narrative. Breaking down each day into segments of time created a sense of immediacy. By bringing the families of the plotters into the story he showed what they were prepared to risk for their beliefs and the additional pressure they were under to ensure their families' safety should the plot fail.

I enjoyed Morgan's contemporary, neutral writing style. Despite there being no flowery phrases or attempts to replicate 17th century speech in this narrative, the atmosphere of 17th century London and its people were successfully evoked.

This novel gave me a greater insight into the reasons behind the Gunpowder Plot. At one point, my sympathies were tending towards the plotters until I reminded myself that these men were actually terrorists.

The alternate ending was very believable. Inevitably, after finishing the novel, I spent some time contemplating the "what if" and applying it to other events in history.

Once again, I'm surprised by how much I enjoyed a book I wouldn't normally have picked up. I'm looking forward to reading the sequel, 1617.

Thank you to Tony Morgan for a free copy to read and review.

2 comments: