Book Review: Camille and the Lost Diaries of Samuel Pepys by Bob Marshall-Andrews

This is another commercial preview sent to me recently. Promising a mix of political intrigue and romance against the backdrop of Restoration England, this fascinating concept had me saying an enthusiastic “yes please!” to the publisher. There is not a lot of fiction about this period with historical fiction writers fat more focused on those darned Tudors.

Camille is a French actress who has become very good at what she does and in demand all over France, particularly in the theatres of Paris. Almost overnight, her craft is taken away from her as the king decides that women should no longer be permitted to act on stage. So she is a woman posing as a boy playing a woman. That is until an unfortunate incident means she must flee Paris for England – the birthplace of her mother. There, she meets poet Samuel Pepys who is immediately drawn to the young woman and her story. He is no longer a young man and soon asks Camille to go to Paris with him to help negotiate with the king of France – oh dear, that’s a place she most certainly does not want to be. On the way, she helps him put his diary together, their relationship developing professionally and personally, all the while avoiding the authorities as she contemplates plotting her revenge after what transpired following her departure.

Camille, the first person protagonist, is a bit of a SEW Archetype (Surprisingly Emancipated Woman) that you expect from historical fiction and has become a trope of the genre. I’m under no illusion that women were as meek and mild as we have been led to believe, but sometimes these characters are a bit too larger than life that they are difficult to take seriously. That can’t really be said of Camille as a character, thankfully. Certainly, she knows her own mind but she also knows the right things to say and do and the right times to say and do them. She is more like Sally Lockhart than Xena Warrior Princess, even though she is very handy with a sword. I like her, she’s very sympathetic.

Written by Bob Marshal-Andrews, former Labour MP who was a bit of a maverick, rebelling against the Blair and Brown government several times. Barrister and writer, this is his third book. It seems in his post political career he is making a new one as a writer. If this is the sort of quality he will be producing then I am looking forward to more. It flows very well and is easy on the eye despite the general slow pace of the text. Aside from Camille, there is a fascinating and colourful cast of characters who feel quite human and never larger than life despite the big names on display. It’s an incredibly easy read and will appeal to most audiences – with political intrigue, romance, historical drama and more. I can strongly recommend this book to most audiences.

Disclaimer: This book is released today (23/2/16); the publisher sent me a hard copy of this book for the purpose of review.

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