1597 seethes with political and personal intrigue. The reign of Elizabeth I
and the colorful machinations of court life reach far into the world of Ann More, a privileged member of the aristocracy who lives with her grandparents in the old manor house of Loseley near Guildford, Surrey. A member of the Queen’s inner circle, Ann’s father, George More,
wields an iron rod, willfully controlling the marital destinies of Ann’s sisters
- Bett, Francis, and Mary.
George’s rank and power is to be of increasing profit to his children. Because his standing requires it, his mission is to achieve “good marriages for all of them." From the beginning, however, Ann proves to be a remarkably different from her sisters. Contrary and feisty, ‘like a plant withering away that is given a sudden dose of water and sunshine,” Ann readily admits that she wants a husband and the joys of having “hearth and home,” but she resents having no say in the matter.
A possible suitor must be chosen for the advancement of the More family, “neither dolt nor debtor, dullard let him be.” Ann is given a reprieve with the opportunity to go to London to be trained in court life. Eager for the sun to warm her into womanhood and ever the dutiful daughter, Ann must learn to bend her will to her father’s
, the gilded glamour of London is both frightening and alluring in equal measure.
Ann’s grandmother’s kiss and her words of advice - “be chaste, silent and obedient”
- do little to prevent Ann from feeling like an ignorant stranger in a foreign land, unaware of the customs or rules. She causes a stir when she stays at York House, the home of Thomas Edgerton, the Queen's Lord Keeper, "the greatest wit in Christendom," and then refuses to take part in the court after she sees the Queen reprimand Mary Howard in a fit of sullen rage.
Elizabeth moves tactfully among her subjects, still an able-bodied monarch after all these years; Ann realizes
that she is beyond her depth. Like a dangerous current lapping at her feet, the Court, despite its richness and splendor, seems a dangerous place that quickens a stern and evil-tempered Queen. Ann’s reluctance to partake places her reputation in danger, but what really sets tongues wagging is Ann’s sudden attachment to handsome John Donne, rumored to be a heretic and a writer of "lewd verses."
No matter how hard she tries, Ann will never let herself become an object of political pragmatism. Her father aches to have her married off to the best possible suitor, yet she sets her heart on Donne, his poems like nothing she’s read before.
Their words create a fiery blush and stain the whiteness of her maiden cheeks. Ann follows John’s every word, becoming a victim
of his "libertine charms."
From the stink of the Thames, to the makeshift taverns of the poor to the gilded halls of the rich, to the inclusion of Donne’s bawdy verses, Haran's novel is meticulous. In this world of sinners and vagabonds, Ann
defies custom, forced to make the most difficult choice of all: faithfulness to her father's wishes or happiness in the arms of her beautiful, gifted lover.