The Bitter Trade by Piers Alexander

AlexanderTheBitterTradeWhy I Read It: Historical fiction combined with a coffee conspiracy, in England? Why not!

Where I Got It: A review copy via the blog tour & Netgalley (thank you!)

Who I Recommend This To: It’s a nitty gritty historical fiction, for those who like more reality than fiction.

Publisher: Tenderfoot (2014)

Length: 448 pages

Author’s Page

Calumny (Cal) Spinks lives with his father and mother in a village outside of London. Hi English father (Peter) drinks a bit too much and has more secrets than Cal can stand. His French mother is ill and weak and loves her son dearly. It’s the 1600s and unrest is in the air. Peter Spinks, a fair silk weaver, has kept his son in the dark about his past and has refused to add his son’s name to the apprentice list. Cal is nearing the age at when he will no longer be eligible to be an apprentice and that door will forever be closed to him. It’s maddening to Cal. Then Garric enters Cal’s life (and returns to Peter’s) on the very same day tragedy strikes the family. Cal is forced to make a new life in London in Clerkenwell neighborhood. There, he finds that many folks have secrets and he’s determined to find out Garric’s biggest secret.

I found the main protagonist, Calumny Spinks, to be fully engaging. He grows through out the book as he has one adventure (or mishap) after another, as he unravels these secrets and gains some of his own. He’s a bit of a rogue, enjoying the lasses so much that I was surprised he wasn’t in more trouble. His mouth can be sharp and foul as needed.

The setting is nearly a character itself (just how I like my settings) and you never forget that you are in 1688 England. Public sanitation is all but nonexistent; the food is fairly simple if rich and hearty at times; traveling from point a to point b takes time. The Glorious Revolution plays an important role in this book and I have to say that I was not educated on this event in history at all. So my only word of caution to folks venturing into this book is that it would be beneficial to go over a brief accounting of the politics of the time to better enjoy this book. If you don’t know the basics (as I didn’t) then I fear you will miss out on some of the nuances of the book (as I did).

The pacing is great – not so fast-paced as to gloss over stuff and not so detailed as to bog the reader down. And the prose is excellent. The imagery sometimes had me chuckling out loud, nodding my head in agreement, or even grimacing. Here’s an example from early on in the story (no spoilers): ‘Abigail was boiling bones in the back kitchen. The more rotten the stock, the better the soup, she said, and hers was as rich and spicy as a woman’s summer-sweat.’ At times the characters, and the language, get quite bawdy, but I also enjoyed this as it was realistic and it didn’t eclipse the plotline.

Early on, the female characters are here and there and not integral to the plotline. It is only later on as the story progresses that we get a few ladies who are more than just lovers, mothers, and pretty things to coo over. Of course, I would have liked to see plot-necessary ladies earlier in the book, but I was content that the author made use of them at some point.

Over all, a very good read having an intricate plotline, a fully engaging lead character, and being educational to boot. If coffee and revolution and English history are your things, then this is definitely a good read for you.

What I Liked: Cal Spinks is a very interesting character; realistic prose and setting; you always feel like you are in 1600s England; the cover; all the secrets to unravel; how the plot turns out.

What I Disliked: These are two small points – 1) If you aren’t familiar with the Glorious Revolution, then you might be a bit lost in the politics; and 2) we could have used a few more women who were integral to the plot, especially early on.

What Others Think:

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