Originally published: 4 February 2021
Author: Lucy Jago
Published by: Bloomsbury
Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: 352 pages
Reading dates: 27 January-4 February 2021
Frances Howard has beauty and a powerful family – and is the most unhappy creature in the world.
Anne Turner has wit and talent – but no stage on which to display them. Little stands between her and the abyss of destitution.
When these two very different women meet in the strangest of circumstances, a powerful friendship is sparked. Frankie sweeps Anne into a world of splendour that exceeds all she imagined: a Court whose foreign king is a stranger to his own subjects; where ancient families fight for power, and where the sovereign’s favourite may rise and rise – so long as he remains in favour.
With the marriage of their talents, Anne and Frankie enter this extravagant, savage hunting ground, seeking a little happiness for themselves. But as they gain notice, they also gain enemies; what began as a search for love and safety leads to desperate acts that could cost them everything.
I adore historical fiction and certainly don’t seem to read enough of it. Much of the historical fiction I read also tends to be set in the 20th century so it was a real treat to be introduced to the lives of the people in the Jacobian Court. The book begins in 1609 when Anne Turner, wife of a well respected doctor and mother of 5 is called upon to help dress Frances Howard who is suffering the pain of a whipping from her new husband Robert Devereux. Despite being from very different backgrounds, the women become friends. Frankie confides in Anne about the troubles of her marriage and Anne being a bit older, is glad to try and help the younger woman. She also enjoys the privilege of being introduced to the royal court.
Anne was a fascinating character – she is the mother of 5 children. Her husband, is a well respected doctor and has given his blessing to her relationship with a younger man Sir Arthur Waring who is also the father of some of her children. She is also the creator of the striking saffron-yellow colour that became fashionable for ruffs, collars and cuffs at the time. She fiercely cares for her children and when circumstances mean they end up in financial difficulty you can tell she will do anything for them to keep them safe as she loves them dearly.
Frances is just a teenager, forced into an arranged marriage to a cruel man not much older than she is but who knows he holds all the power and abuses her physically and mentally. She is beautiful and rebellious. Her family care little for her welfare and she is lonely and Anne comes to her rescue.
Some of the events in this book are truly shocking and it really feels like Jago has done an immense amount of research around these real life women and what happened to them. The attention to detail to what life must of been like for them made me feel as if I was transported to 17th Century London. I loved the contrast between the smells and squalor of London to the opulence of the Royal Court with their extravagant clothes. A Net for Small Fishes is a cracking true story and also taught me about a period of history that I knew little about.
A story of a strong female friendship, both women lean on each other in their times of hardship. And even from her position of privilege, Frankie does not abandon Anne in her time of need. Both are strong female characters who suffer great injustice but are strong and resourceful and I loved my time in their lives. A wonderful story full of witchcraft, sex and murder, I really enjoyed this well researched and engaging novel from Lucy Jago.
Thank you to Bloomsbury for a gifted proof copy.
About the author:
Lucy Jago is an award-winning writer of fiction and non-fiction, and a former documentary producer for Channel 4 and the BBC. Her first book, The Northern Lights, won the National Biography prize and has been translated into eight languages; her YA novel, Montacute House, met with critical acclaim in the US and the UK.
A Net for Small Fishes will be published by Bloomsbury, February 2021 and later in the spring by Flatiron Books in the USA. Lucy is now working on her next novel for Bloomsbury.
Lucy was awarded a Double First Class Honours Degree from King’s College, University of Cambridge, and a master’s degree from the Courtauld Institute, London. Lucy is a Fellow of the Royal Literary Society and lives in Somerset.