This is the second full length novel by Katherine Clements, widely taunted as historical fiction’s Bright New Voice. It is for good reason she is described as such; The Crimson Ribbon, which I reviewed back in September, is superb. The Silvered Heart is more of an adventure story than a complex examination of a theme, but it is fun, clearly written by a writer who knows her period, and will appeal massively to people who like their heroines feisty and gung-ho.
Telling the story of the legendary Lady Katherine Ferrers, who I had never heard of, this book, set like her previous during the time of the Civil War, rattles through about 15 years in just over 400 pages, often at breakneck speed, leaving the reader no time to be bored-although they may often be confused. Important plot points are lost, or thrown randomly into the mix, leaving me feeling like I never really new the character of Katherine or her true motivations-though I think this is sort of the point. Katherine is one of history’s ‘wicked women’, and Clements is trying to have the reader make their own mind up about if this is so. I would say Katherine comes across and frustrated, naive and a bit foolhardy rather than wicked. A young girl in a world very much commanded by men, Katherine is placed in a role by her elders and spends half the book worrying about if it suits her or not. She is also the victim of absolutely appalling abuse-like the opening of The Crimson Ribbon, The Silvered Heart pulls no punches, and this could be rather triggering for survivors of sexual violence.
Katherine is a wealthy heiress, and married off by her family at 14 to a man she does not know or care about. It is the end of the Civil War, and Katherine’s staunchly Royalist family have suffered badly, and will suffer more. Made a virtual prisoner in her own home, Katherine looks to other means to provide for her household, eventually taking to the road as one of the many highway robbers with whom that period is often associated. ‘Your Money or Your Life’ is the fairytale version of gentlemen of the highway; this book shows the grim reality of desperate people committing horrendous crimes.
And yet….there still seems an element of fairytale in all this. Katherine is so woefully ignorant about how her own behavior impacts on other people and so wrapped up in her own world that I couldn’t help but dislike her. Parts of the book seemed almost YA in the way they rattled through events, I love YA so this didn’t put me off but may some readers looking for a more sustained read.
There is a definite comparison to Bonnie and Clyde in Katherine and her partner in crime, and parts of the book are brilliantly written-Clement is very good at creating tension. I also love the cover; Civil War is very ‘in’ at the moment so you’ll see a lot about, this one manages to keep it’s own identity. It lacks the emotional impact of The Crimson Ribbon, but with a bit of tightening up this would be an excellent read.