This series is based around a troop of actors in Elizabethan London called Westfield’s Men. They begin life as a troop based at a pub, which gives the first book its name ‘The Queen’s Head’. The books give an insight into what the life of actors in Elizabethan London could have been like, both the sharers who had a financial stake in the company and the hired men who hoped that they would continue to have a job.
The main character is the book-holder (a bit like a modern stage manager) called Nicholas Bracewell. Other characters include lead actor Lawrence Firethorn, playwright Edmund Hoode, clown Barnaby Gill, and other members of the company including Owen Elias, George Dart and Nicholas’s love interest, Anne Hendrik. The characters are gradually developed over the course of the books, and we find out more about each of them.
You would think that being constantly in London would get boring, but there are some books that take them on tours of England, and even abroad. I don’t think that these are as good in some ways, but they offer relief from London, for example, ‘The Fair Maid of Bohemia’.
The writing is engaging and the books are quite easy to read without being boring. Each book can be read individually and not in order, though you would get more of the character development reading them in order, and understand some of the background plots like the ongoing problems with the pub landlord, Alexander Marwood.
The order of the books is as follows:-
1) The Queen’s Head
2) The Merry Devils
3) The Trip to Jerusalem
4) The Nine Giants
5) The Mad Courtesan
6) The Silent Woman
7) The Roaring Boy
8) The Laughing Hangman
9) The Fair Maid of Bohemia
10) The Wanton Angel
11) The Devil’s Apprentice
12) The Bawdy Basket
13) The Vagabond Clown
14) The Counterfeit Crank
15) The Malevolent Comedy
16) The Princess of Denmark
The ones that stood out for me were ‘The Roaring Boy’ and ‘The Laughing Hangman’ because the storylines seemed to be something completely new, and they involved more than just the company themselves – it was interwoven with court politics and the wider issues of the period.
I would thoroughly recommend these, not just to fans of the period or of historical fiction, but to anyone, because they have engaging characters, rich storylines and are very well-written.
The series is published by Allison and Busby.