This darkly intriguing book brings to life a scandal that shocked King and country in the 17th Century.

As someone who enjoys historical fiction, I was immensely intrigued by the story behind Lucy Jago’s debut novel that follows two women right at the centre of the death of Thomas Overbury.

Written in a grippingly vivid style, Jago manages to bring to life with great drama not only the events leading up the scandalous trial and eventual hanging of Anne Turner – but also the friendship that developed between Turner and Frances Howard.

Nothing about this story is sugarcoated, with the undertones of danger lurking everywhere – from the second that Anne meets Frances (who has just been beaten by her husband – the ruthless Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex), the reader gets an ominous sense that these two women are caught up in a situation that they can’t escape out of.

While in some ways it is a story of rise and fall, it is also the story wanting to survive and make choices on their own accord for freedom – as seen as Frances falls in love with the charming Carr and seeks an annulment, while Anne seeks position and support from her lover Arthur Waring after the death of her husband. Unfortunately given the times that they were living in this was seen as unacceptable – leading to the pair to increasingly desperate acts.

The whole book is well polished in terms of style, bringing to life the court of King James – the colour and glamour but also the danger and gossip that is hidden at the centre of it. In every location, you really feel as though you are in the room with the characters – so absorbing are the descriptions and the way in which each event unfolds, making it compelling to read.

Meanwhile, the violence that is displayed by men and those in power shines through. In particular seen through Devereaux’s horrific treatment of Frances and the way in which Waring abandons Anne leaves them fighting harder for survival and to break free is heartbreakingly honest and makes a real impact on the reader. Yet – the loyalty, friendship and bond between Frances and Anne is never in doubt, revealing just how they support each other during the difficult times.

Dark and dangerous from start to finish, this is a really distinctive and fascinating historical fiction novel that slowly draws you in while ramping up the tension effectively.

By Emma Clarendon

A Net for Small Fishes is published by Bloomsbury and is available to buy now.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐