As the Spanish Armada prepares to strike at the heart of England - Queen Elizabeth - King Phillip of Spain seeks to conquer by force what he could not accomplish in marriage. Enduring great dangers in foreign ports, Elizabeth’s spies have done their best, searching for the one critical clue to defeat the Spanish invasion, a plan called the “Miracle of Beauty.”
Calling on those who have come to her aid in another threat to the crown, Elizabeth gathers her confidants: Tomasina, the Queen’s Fool; David Beckett, once tortured by the Inquisition and mistakenly by the Queen’s own men; Simon Anriques, a Jewish merchant-spy loyal to the Queen; Rebecca, Simons’ wife who will go to any length to save her husband’s life; and Merula, an African slave of extraordinary talents, her heart as large as her powerful body.
A bold plan is put in place to learn the details of the Miracle of Beauty, as well as an effort to recover Simon Anriques, who has been taken by the Inquisition while in port. At the crux of the enterprise is the ordnance to turn firearms into killing machines, as the threat of war reaches the very shores of England.
Finney’s characters fulfill their varied destinies: the Queen; David Beckett, broken in the past but dreaming of a more noble future; Merula, acquiescing to the demands of the “white ghosts” while searching for her son; Edward Dormer, a seminarian turned assassin; Joseph Pasquale, an Inquisitor with spiritual pretensions and demons of his own; and Simon Anriques, who endures the Inquisitor’s torture and the hardships of imprisonment as a galley slave in hopes of reuniting with his wife.
From noble to slave, hero to coward, aristocrat to peasant, all turn the great wheel of the medieval kingdoms in a fascinating cross-section of history at a pivotal time on the world stage: “In their ignorance these ghosts have made of their kindly God a most terrible monster.”
Finney adds some fine satirical touches to individual characters, particularly the righteous Spanish priests who defend their purity with rabid zeal, disguising the concupiscence that torments them, clutching denial as desperately as their hair shirts and prayer books. Dominating in a clash of religious fanaticism, the religious figures wax prominent, forcing their interpretations upon the helpless citizens who must do the bidding of their monarchs.
Balancing the converging events and individuals, Finney tosses a great mixed salad of sixteenth-century religious conflict, intrigues, traitors, scoundrels and fanatics, all headed toward a climactic ending that will either bring Elizabeth’s destruction or her triumph. Mining a contemporary message in historical events, Gloriana’s Torch is inspired and beautifully crafted.