I haven’t planned to continue the theme of medieval historical fiction I started with World Without End. However, after picking up Rebecca Gable’s Apprentice (now a full-cast, Audible Original play!) I never regretted it.
The official blurb says the following:
‘This Original multicast drama blends history with fiction to tell the story of Jonah, a young apprentice from London who raises himself from poverty by wit and luck to become one of the most powerful merchants of the age.
A rags-to-riches tale, Jonah’s journey spans the breadth of human experience, from the intricacies of Edward III’s political intrigues to the cutthroat world of international trade, from the triumphs of war to the agonies of personal loss – love, friendship, joy, heartbreak and glory. Set largely in London, the Scarlet City, the centre of medieval England, the Scarlet City trilogy is a thrilling portrait of the age and the people who made it so rich, colourful and extraordinary.
London, 1330. Jonah Durham grows up in the household of his tyrannical cousin Rupert, and only his grandmother, the calculating Cecilia Hillock, recognizes his talent and intelligence. After her death he inherits a handsome fortune, bestowing him with both wealth and independence but also the wrath of his increasingly dangerous cousin. However, a fateful encounter with the young King Edward III is set to radically change Jonah’s life and the future of English cloth production.’
The plot was vigorous and well-constructed, the wool trade angle very original – as I’ve as good as said in my Wolf Hall review, screw the drama of great battles, give me the drama of great companies! After all, the merchant adventurer was exactly what it said on the tin.
I also loved the mix of Walter Scott-esque swashbuckling and the gritty details of the seedier sides of medieval London.
On the other hand, I’ve often seen people say, that most characters lack complexity. In fact, I’ll agree – Gable is certainly no Dorothy Dunnett (whose House of Niccolo series actually have a similar premise). However, the book is still highly entertaining, and is more than worth reading (listening to) during the long winter nights.
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