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C. P. Lesley

Bookworm, writer, radio host—I blog about history, fiction, and publishing in the Internet Age. You can find the full blog on my website. This space is for books.

The Secret World of Christoval Alvarez - Ann Swinfen

Christoval Alvarez, an immigrant to England from Portugal and a "New Christian" forced to convert from Judaism to escape the Inquisition, already juggles the expectations of opposing cultural worlds. He wants nothing more than to become a learned physician like his father, but his gift for mathematics attracts the attention of Sir Francis Walsingham's code-breaking operation. Mary Queen of Scots, although under house arrest, has been in treasonous communication with agents in France who would like nothing better than to replace Protestant Elizabeth with another Catholic queen. Walsingham's men have discovered the route these communications take, but the messages are often not only in code but in French or Spanish.

Christoval's abilities give him the background he needs to decipher the coded messages, and his past experience of the Spanish invasion of Portugal—during which he lost his mother and siblings—ensures that he has motivation to help. He agrees, even though the work takes him away from the hospital.

Besides, Christoval has a deeper secret, known to a man he distrusts, that prevents him from refusing Walsingham's demands, no matter the threat they pose to health, life, or happiness.

A thoroughly enjoyable series, with a compelling main character of surprising complexity, given that Christoval is only sixteen at the beginning of the book. And some of the writing is just beautiful.

I’ve already started on book 2 and look forward to reading the other books in the series.

Full disclosure: I interviewed the author for New Books in Historical Fiction and have developed a social-media-style friendship with her as a result, but I bought these books in the regular way, and the review (like all my reviews) expresses my honest opinion.