Historical Fiction

A Net for Small Fishes – Lucy Jago

30 March 2021
A Net for Small Fishes Book Cover A Net for Small Fishes
Lucy Jago
Historical Fiction
Bloomsbury Publishing
11 February 2021

'The Thelma and Louise of the seventeenth century: two mis-matched heroines, two grittily-textured lives, an outrageous plot (true!), sex, politics, and a gut-wrenching ending' Lawrence NorfolkFrances Devereux has beauty, glamour, a powerful family - and not a friend in the world. Anne Taylor has wit, talent and ambition - but no way into the court she longs to enter. When these two very different women meet in the strangest of circumstances, a friendship quickly sparks and catches. Following at Frankie's heels, Anne crosses into a world beyond her imagination: a court where a foreign king is a stranger to his own subjects; where ancient families vie for power, and where a favourite of the king may rise and rise - so long as he remains in favour. With the marriage of their talents, Anne and Frankie are an even match for this beautiful, savage hunting ground. But as Frankie's situation grows dangerous, and Anne's precarious, the women are driven to a series of desperate acts - acts which could lose them everything. What price ambition, and talent, and self-creation, at the cost of total destruction?


The court of James I of Scotland & England (Great Britain) is brought to life in this vivid historical drama, with a story that had far-reaching consequences as it was mired in scandal. A Net for Small Fishes is a compelling weave of imaginative fiction with meaningful disclosures of history. The royal courts at the time were places of deadly political machinations where winners held power and wealth, while the losers lost land, position and quite often their lives. Lucy Jago created a perilous and edgy atmosphere that encircles the story of two unlikely female friends who sought to change their lives from the abusive and restrained existence they endured.

Frances (Frankie) Howard, a member of the powerful catholic, Howard family, was betrothed to the Earl of Essex in a political union. A marriage that was claimed never to have been consummated and which brought much ridicule to the Earl of Essex. As the Countess of Essex, Frankie, suffered physical and mental abuse from her husband in a marriage that is fraught with family loathing, religious hatred, and partisan suspicion. Frankie’s close friend comes from an unlikely source, Mistress Anne Turner, wife of the physician Dr George Turner. As a talented fashion stylist, Anne ensures Frankie is dressed magnificently for court and they become closer and closer friends, which is unique in an environment where deceit and corruption are common practice. The genuine connection across the class divide was also quite surprising and endearing, openly discussing secrets and desires, which was a risk, especially for that era.

With Frankie’s marriage falling apart, the drama intensifies when she pursues a love affair with the King’s favourite, Viscount Robert Carr. An affair that risked devastating repercussions, but illustrates the attitude of Frances Howard and the loyalty of Anne Turner. Anne becomes widowed, and she courageously works to provide an independent life and social position.

When the poisoning of the poet Sir Thomas Overbury occurs and the following trial is prosecuted, the loyalty of the women is paramount. The trial is steeped in accusations, coercion, talk of witchcraft, magic, and the plotting of powerful families to destroy each other. In a Net for Small Fishes, Lucy Jago paints a credible account of the actual events that surrounded the death and trial over Sir Thomas Overbury but places the two women at the centre of the story and addresses an imaginatively unique perspective they faced. It is a wonderful opportunity to appreciate how difficult it was for women to navigate the royal court scene and obtain equality, independence and romantic relationships.

The scenes that are painted in historical London are authentically portrayed, and along with the engaging dialogue, deliver an enthralling read with voices that are intelligent and distinctive. The depth of the characters creates personalities full of light and shade, witty, and fascinating.

This is an audiobook review and the narrator, Sarah Durham, totally beguiled me with her beautiful shifting tones and inflexions, which provided greater scope than I expected. I would highly recommend this book and I would like to thank Bloomsbury UK Audio and NetGalley for providing me with a free copy in return for an honest review.

Peter Donnelly

Founder of The Reading Desk, supporting readers, authors, publishers and book industry. Top Reviewer on Amazon, Goodreads, and NetGalley peter@thereadingdesk.com

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