The Dangerous Kingdom of Love (2021): Neil Blackmore

★★★½

In the English court of 1613, there are two paths to success: noble blood or a pretty face. Francis Bacon has neither, so he’s had to resort to bribing the King’s loathsome little favourite Robert Carr, in order to secure an appointment as Attorney General. This new job offers some protection from Bacon’s phalanx of noble enemies, who’d love nothing more than to see him fall from grace, but almost immediately he learns of a worrying development at court. Robert Carr is due to marry the daughter of the Earl of Suffolk, one of Bacon’s nemeses, and Bacon knows perfectly well that his days are numbered unless he can come up with a way to break their stranglehold over the King. Ideally, he’d dislodge the brattish Carr by finding a beautiful, amusing and irresistible boy to offer up as a new potential favourite for the King. When Bacon’s path happens to cross that of the ravishing George Villiers, he seizes the opportunity, without stopping to think of the challenges that lie ahead: the task of playing Pygmalion and the difficulties that might arise when his creation gains power of his own. Giving centre stage to one of the period’s most fascinating characters, Neil Blackmore’s novel of sexual ambition in Jacobean England achieves the tricky feat of being both historically convincing and enormously fun.

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