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A Net for Small Fishes

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"A bravura historical debut . . . a gloriously immersive escape." —Guardian Wolf Hall meets The Favourite in this gripping dark novel based on the true scandal of two women determined to create their own fates in the Jacobean court. With Frankie, I could have the life I had always wanted . . . and with me she could forge something more satisfying from her own . . . When Fra "A bravura historical debut . . . a gloriously immersive escape." —Guardian Wolf Hall meets The Favourite in this gripping dark novel based on the true scandal of two women determined to create their own fates in the Jacobean court. With Frankie, I could have the life I had always wanted . . . and with me she could forge something more satisfying from her own . . . When Frances Howard, beautiful but unhappy wife of the Earl of Essex, meets the talented Anne Turner, the two strike up an unlikely, yet powerful, friendship. Frances makes Anne her confidante, sweeping her into a glamorous and extravagant world, riven with bitter rivalry. As the women grow closer, each hopes to change her circumstances. Frances is trapped in a miserable marriage while loving another, and newly-widowed Anne struggles to keep herself and her six children alive as she waits for a promised proposal. A desperate plan to change their fortunes is hatched. But navigating the Jacobean court is a dangerous game and one misstep could cost them everything.


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"A bravura historical debut . . . a gloriously immersive escape." —Guardian Wolf Hall meets The Favourite in this gripping dark novel based on the true scandal of two women determined to create their own fates in the Jacobean court. With Frankie, I could have the life I had always wanted . . . and with me she could forge something more satisfying from her own . . . When Fra "A bravura historical debut . . . a gloriously immersive escape." —Guardian Wolf Hall meets The Favourite in this gripping dark novel based on the true scandal of two women determined to create their own fates in the Jacobean court. With Frankie, I could have the life I had always wanted . . . and with me she could forge something more satisfying from her own . . . When Frances Howard, beautiful but unhappy wife of the Earl of Essex, meets the talented Anne Turner, the two strike up an unlikely, yet powerful, friendship. Frances makes Anne her confidante, sweeping her into a glamorous and extravagant world, riven with bitter rivalry. As the women grow closer, each hopes to change her circumstances. Frances is trapped in a miserable marriage while loving another, and newly-widowed Anne struggles to keep herself and her six children alive as she waits for a promised proposal. A desperate plan to change their fortunes is hatched. But navigating the Jacobean court is a dangerous game and one misstep could cost them everything.

30 review for A Net for Small Fishes

  1. 5 out of 5

    Paromjit

    Lucy Jago highlights a real life 17th century historical scandal set in the reign of James I of England, a blend of fact and fiction that addresses the misogyny of the time in this feminist retelling of the surprisingly strong friendship that sprang between the beautiful Countess of Essex, Frances 'Frankie' Howard and the physician's wife, Mistress Anne Turner, a gifted fashion stylist struggling to find a platform to market her talents in London society. Frankie is a member of the powerful and Lucy Jago highlights a real life 17th century historical scandal set in the reign of James I of England, a blend of fact and fiction that addresses the misogyny of the time in this feminist retelling of the surprisingly strong friendship that sprang between the beautiful Countess of Essex, Frances 'Frankie' Howard and the physician's wife, Mistress Anne Turner, a gifted fashion stylist struggling to find a platform to market her talents in London society. Frankie is a member of the powerful and influential Catholic family in the Jacobean court of fierce aristocratic and religious rivalries, enemies everywhere and where favourites rise and fall at the whim of a insecure King. At the age of 15, Frankie's family arranged a political marriage for her with the Earl of Essex, a man who loathed the Howards. The marriage is a nightmare for Frankie, she is dreadfully abused physically and emotionally by a husband who regards her with suspicion, holding her in the utmost contempt. Anne and Frankie begin to form a strong bond as Anne dresses Frankie in a manner that brings her increasing public attention in the Royal court to the great displeasure of her husband. Despite the terrors of her marriage, Frankie goes to great lengths to make her marriage work, helped by Anne, to produce an heir that will increase her power, but is doomed to fail with a husband unable to perform sexually. As Frankie's eyes turn to another man, she becomes impetuous and careless in her efforts to gain a annulment of her marriage. Anne's circumstances become substantially more precarious as she becomes a widow and faces betrayal, but Frankie proves to be a constant friend. As the enemies of the Howards grow stronger, Frankie and Anne face the gravest of dangers in a society determined to crush women daring to challenge the limitations placed upon them. Jago writes an riveting, well researched, historical novel, with oodles of suspense and tension. She makes the period come alive with rich descriptions of London and the intensely competitive nature of the royal court and the rampant political intrigue that marked it. For me, it is the characters of Frankie and Anne that captivated, the differences in their status made little impact on the strength of their feelings for each other. Anne is bright, witty, and sees nothing wrong in wanting to tweak the circumstances in her life to gain happiness for herself and her family, and Frankie has the nerve to want an annulment, a groundbreaking act for a woman. This is a terrific and entertaining piece of historical fiction that will appeal to many readers. Thanks to Bloomsbury for an ARC.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    Ambition The court of James I of Scotland & England (Great Britain) is brought to life in this vivid historical drama, with a story that had far-reaching consequences as it was mired in scandal. A Net for Small Fishes is a compelling weave of imaginative fiction with meaningful disclosures of history. The royal courts at the time were places of deadly political machinations where winners held power and wealth, while the losers lost land, position and quite often their lives. Lucy Jago created a p Ambition The court of James I of Scotland & England (Great Britain) is brought to life in this vivid historical drama, with a story that had far-reaching consequences as it was mired in scandal. A Net for Small Fishes is a compelling weave of imaginative fiction with meaningful disclosures of history. The royal courts at the time were places of deadly political machinations where winners held power and wealth, while the losers lost land, position and quite often their lives. Lucy Jago created a perilous and edgy atmosphere that encircles the story of two unlikely female friends who sought to change their lives from the abusive and restrained existence they endured. Frances (Frankie) Howard, a member of the powerful catholic, Howard family, was betrothed to the Earl of Essex as a political union. A marriage that was claimed never to have been consummated, which brought much ridicule to the Earl of Essex. As the Countess of Essex, Frankie, suffered physical and mental abuse from her husband in a marriage that is fraught with family loathing, religious hatred, and partisan suspicion. Frankie’s close friend comes from an unlikely source, Mistress Anne Turner, wife of the physician Dr George Turner. As a talented fashion stylist, Anne ensures Frankie is dressed magnificently for court and they become closer and closer friends, which is unique in an environment where deceit and corruption are common practice. The genuine connection across the class divide was also quite surprising and endearing, openly discussing secrets and desires, which was a risk, especially for that era. With Frankie’s marriage falling apart, the drama intensifies when she pursues a love affair with the King’s favourite, Viscount Robert Carr. An affair that risked devastating repercussions, but illustrates the attitude of Frances Howard and the loyalty of Anne Turner. Anne becomes widowed, and she courageously works to provide an independent life and social position. When the poisoning of the poet Sir Thomas Overbury occurs and the following trial is prosecuted, the loyalty of the women is paramount. The trial is steeped in accusations, coercion, talk of witchcraft, magic, and the plotting of powerful families to destroy each other. In a Net for Small Fishes, Lucy Jago paints a credible account of the actual events that surrounded the death and trial over Sir Thomas Overbury but places the two women at the centre of the story and addresses an imaginatively unique perspective they faced. It is a wonderful opportunity to appreciate how difficult it was for women to navigate the royal court scene and obtain equality, independence and romantic relationships. The scenes that are painted in historical London are authentically portrayed, and along with the engaging dialogue, deliver an enthralling read with voices that are intelligent and distinctive. The depth of the characters creates personalities full of light and shade, witty, and fascinating. This is an audiobook review and the narrator, Sarah Durham, totally beguiled me with her beautiful shifting tones and inflexions, which provided greater scope than I expected. I would highly recommend this book and I would like to thank Bloomsbury UK Audio and NetGalley for providing me with a free copy in return for an honest review.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Beata

    The portrait of two women from two different classes, whose friendship seemed impossible, is beautifully depicted in this fine historical fiction. The well-known mysterious case of King James''s favourite death is the background for presenting Frances Howard and Anne Turner's bond. I liked Ms Turner who is determined to survive all hardships and who developes special feelings towards Frankie, an aristocratic lady suffering abuse in her marriage. Two women who have courage to seek what they belie The portrait of two women from two different classes, whose friendship seemed impossible, is beautifully depicted in this fine historical fiction. The well-known mysterious case of King James''s favourite death is the background for presenting Frances Howard and Anne Turner's bond. I liked Ms Turner who is determined to survive all hardships and who developes special feelings towards Frankie, an aristocratic lady suffering abuse in her marriage. Two women who have courage to seek what they believe is the happiness and safety, and who remain loyal to each other until the end. Ms Jago did tremendous research into the period, and the court's politics. The times were not lenient on women who wanted to be independent and express their voices. The justice, 'the net for small fishes' was harsh and followed the king's views and prejudices. *A big thank-you to Lucy Jago, Bloomsbury Publishing, and NetGalley for arc in exchange for my honest review.*

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ceecee

    This historical fiction is based on the true story of the scandal that rocks the court of James I. It centres around the marriage of Frances Howard to the abusive Earl of Essex, her affair with the Kings favourite Robert Carr and the poisoning of poet Sir Thomas Overbury and the subsequent trial. It is told via the growing friendship of Frances (referred to in the book as Frankie) and Mistress Anne Turner, Catholic wife of well known physician Dr Turner. Anne has a talent for fashion and she hel This historical fiction is based on the true story of the scandal that rocks the court of James I. It centres around the marriage of Frances Howard to the abusive Earl of Essex, her affair with the Kings favourite Robert Carr and the poisoning of poet Sir Thomas Overbury and the subsequent trial. It is told via the growing friendship of Frances (referred to in the book as Frankie) and Mistress Anne Turner, Catholic wife of well known physician Dr Turner. Anne has a talent for fashion and she helps Frances use this as a means to stand out at court. Frances, also a Catholic, is from the powerful Howard family who always use calculation as a means to advance their cause and retain preeminence. The storyline demonstrates how both women try to be independent mistresses of their own destiny within a male dominated society determined to use any methods to keep them in their ordained place. The story is told by Anne which I like as you see these dramatic events and famous characters through the eyes someone not based at court. This is a very well written and carefully researched novel which stays close to the known facts and is set into the context of the times. The characters of the two strong women from very different social backgrounds are well depicted, easy to picture and are portrayed as intelligent, brave and courageous. Their friendship is close and of particular importance to Frances trapped in an unhappy marriage and though Anne warns her of the dangers of breaking out of this, Frances goes her own way. Their thoughts and feelings are well described and your heart breaks for Frances’ horrific treatment and is an insightful analysis of a doomed relationship. The language used is appropriate to the times, is colourfully vivid and you can hear Anne’s voice clearly as she describes the many political machinations, elbow jostling for favouritism and ascendancy at court, the plots and subsequent dangers. Her narrative gives us a broad and rich picture of medicine, magic and superstitions of the period with the lotions, potions and witchcraft being particularly fascinating. You can almost smell the stinking Thames, the filth strewn streets with the noxious rising miasma and rottenness and damp of some of the houses. The women’s powerlessness is clearly seen at the dramatic end as we witness the Kings justice as a ‘net for small fishes’ into which Anne is caught. It demonstrates the strength, loyalty of a true friendship between Anne and Frances as well as their courage as they are vilified. My reservations lie in the fact that the book is slow initially and it takes a while to immerse yourself but once you connect to the storytelling it’s a compelling and excellent read. There are inevitably a lot of characters and some knowledge of the period is helpful though not essential. Overall, a well written and entertaining novel revealing a fascinating world of court, scandal and plot through the eyes of a commoner. With thanks to NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing PLC for the arc for an honest review.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    Ok, I've gritted my teeth and forced my way through two chapters and can't do it any more. This is written in 'historical novel' language: you know, that highly perfumed and artificial style that forces a simile into every other sentence no matter how inappropriate the image or unnecessary it may be for meaning: 'The servant led the way as if into battle' - erm, no, he's simply lighting the way to a bedchamber; 'I twisted my head about like a pigeon' - and you expect me to bond with you for hund Ok, I've gritted my teeth and forced my way through two chapters and can't do it any more. This is written in 'historical novel' language: you know, that highly perfumed and artificial style that forces a simile into every other sentence no matter how inappropriate the image or unnecessary it may be for meaning: 'The servant led the way as if into battle' - erm, no, he's simply lighting the way to a bedchamber; 'I twisted my head about like a pigeon' - and you expect me to bond with you for hundreds of pages? 'the Countess, her face glistening, hard as a sugar sculpture' - We all know what a hard face looks like ... and I bet it's not a sugar sculpture. 'Her feet, young enough that the bones did not show, were pretty as ducklings.' Um, seriously? Quacky ducklings? 'Awe possessed me like a devil, jumping on my organs, pulling the strings of my eyes' - Wait, 'jumping on my organs'? 'Our monarch felt as vulnerable as his elfin hound' - what does this even mean? I picked this up on the back of a rave review in The Guardian... and am putting it rapidly down again after two chapters of my eyes rolling like the rolliest rolly things - yikes, it's catching! p.s. The real story of Frances Howard and the death of Thomas Overbury through poisoned jellies is fascinating: there's a good popular history, Unnatural Murder: Poison In The Court Of James I: The Overbury Murder - no ducklings or elfin hounds, though ;)

  6. 5 out of 5

    Alayne Emmett

    This book was a slow starter and I nearly gave up, but, it interested me so I plodded on and halfway through it started to get very good and in the end I enjoyed it. Reading a historical novel is something I like to do from time to time and I’m glad I read this one. My on,y criticism is that there was a lot of characters in this story which sometimes confused me but on the whole the book was a good read. My thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in This book was a slow starter and I nearly gave up, but, it interested me so I plodded on and halfway through it started to get very good and in the end I enjoyed it. Reading a historical novel is something I like to do from time to time and I’m glad I read this one. My on,y criticism is that there was a lot of characters in this story which sometimes confused me but on the whole the book was a good read. My thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in return for an honest review.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Emma

    The court of James I is a dangerous place. A whisper of scandal can ruin and people fight dirty to rise high. Intrigue is a given, but murder? Now that might be a step too far. When the little-loved Thomas Overbury is despatched though plotting and poison, someone must pay the price. But who? The Countess of Essex, Frances 'Frankie' Howard, might seem to be in an enviable position, but she dreams of a marital upgrade. Her odious husband, Robert Devereux, and his petty violence is more than she c The court of James I is a dangerous place. A whisper of scandal can ruin and people fight dirty to rise high. Intrigue is a given, but murder? Now that might be a step too far. When the little-loved Thomas Overbury is despatched though plotting and poison, someone must pay the price. But who? The Countess of Essex, Frances 'Frankie' Howard, might seem to be in an enviable position, but she dreams of a marital upgrade. Her odious husband, Robert Devereux, and his petty violence is more than she can handle. Especially when the King's current favourite, Robert Carr, plays so passionately for her attention. But this is a high stakes game...the Court is fractious, full of rivalries and jealousy, and more than one family has fallen when losing the favour of the King. To get what she wants, Frankie will have to risk it all... but she's not the only one with something at stake. Anne Turner, dresser and companion, has less to lose, at least in terms of wealth and status. That's not to say that the ever closer relationship between her and Frankie is without risk. Anne's desperation for more than her hard lot, and the chance to seize it through this society connection, will put her very life on the line. The inner lives of these two women are fleshed out way beyond what we get in the historical record, allowed more in this novel than the villainous lot they are so often accorded. This a very deliberate choice by the author, a reframing to highlight the inequalities and uncertainties faced by women in this period. Of course, this characterisation does not come from the extant documents, but isn't that one of the advantages of historical fiction? To give voice to people forever hidden from our view? To show the inner thoughts and feelings of those who we could never otherwise hear? In that, it succeeds. As a real life murder mystery with a historical fiction twist, this was a huge amount of fun. Having read rather dry accounts of the Overbury Affair previously, it was wonderful to experience the vibrancy of this reimagining. I loved the spirit of the female voices, their unlikely friendship, their struggle for self in a world dominated by male power. It's a testament to the strength of feeling in the novel that I hoped for a different ending. But for all the imaginative license Lucy Jago takes in the book, she hasn't aimed to ignore history, just enhance it. And the book is all the better for it. ARC via Netgalley

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jules

    I had an idea I’d love this book as I love historical fiction & I love strong female characters, but I had no idea just how much I’d love it! It’s based on a true scandal & it’s clearly well researched & written with a great deal of interest & passion in its subject. The friendship between Anne & Frankie is one of those friendships we all wish for - one of absolute trust in one another. I may have cried. It is wonderful & I will shout about it from the rooftops for a long time to come. LOVED IT!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Dan Bassett

    Based on a true scandal that rocked the court of James 1st, this book sees you dive into the pitch-black waters of the cut-throat Jacobean Court where even the King is a stranger to his own subjects. When Anne Turner ends up in a chance encounter with Frankie, a woman of very high and different means to her own, a friendship is instantly formed which will be tested to beyond breaking point. But as Anne starts to rise in the world of the elite, accompanying Frankie on her journey of wanting to be r Based on a true scandal that rocked the court of James 1st, this book sees you dive into the pitch-black waters of the cut-throat Jacobean Court where even the King is a stranger to his own subjects. When Anne Turner ends up in a chance encounter with Frankie, a woman of very high and different means to her own, a friendship is instantly formed which will be tested to beyond breaking point. But as Anne starts to rise in the world of the elite, accompanying Frankie on her journey of wanting to be rid of her abusive husband, will they be able to stay friends or will dark forces and those who only want to see them fail bring an end to them both? This total gem of a novel is one that will have you truly believe you are a part of Anne’s world as she fights her way to stay by Frankie’s side but when she loses someone who meant the absolute world to her, Anne’s future is thrown into disarray. Meanwhile Frankie is being abused both mentally and physically by her husband who keeps blaming her for not being able to produce an heir, despite the fact he cannot seem to keep it up long enough to even try(Men!) This is one hunting ground where you cannot afford to be seen as pray, for the hounds will swiftly surround you and rip your very soul to shreds. So when Frankie tell Anne of a plot most foul in a bid to reset the game board and give both of them a fresh start, Anne must make decisions that could end up with her being at the mercy of the gallows... Devine intervention, hushed speak of poisons, Humours out of balance, witchcraft, and a dry wit that will have your mouth twitching with amusement, this story of power and the struggle to be seen as what you could be is a total joy to read.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Vanessa Wild

    Set in the 17thC, this tells the story of a scandal which rocked the Jacobean court. It centres around two women, Lady Frances Howard and Mistress Anne Turner, and also involves the King’s favourite, Robert Carr, and the suspicious death of Sir Thomas Overbury. It’s narrated by Anne which gives an interesting aspect on the events related in this book, the title of which is very apt. I thought this was a fabulous read and a wonderful piece of historical fiction based on a true story. It’s well res Set in the 17thC, this tells the story of a scandal which rocked the Jacobean court. It centres around two women, Lady Frances Howard and Mistress Anne Turner, and also involves the King’s favourite, Robert Carr, and the suspicious death of Sir Thomas Overbury. It’s narrated by Anne which gives an interesting aspect on the events related in this book, the title of which is very apt. I thought this was a fabulous read and a wonderful piece of historical fiction based on a true story. It’s well researched and atmospherically written. The descriptions of court life and life on the streets of London are very vivid. The characters are well depicted and seemed realistic. I loved the bond between Frances and Anne, they were both strong and courageous women. I did shed a tear or two towards the end but the epilogue does leave the tale on a note of hope. A powerful and heart wrenching story of the importance of female friendship when trying to survive in a very male world. I loved it!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Eddie Clarke

    I have lots to say about this, and many many criticisms, but don’t want to write a long review! Also, because my complaints would outweigh my general response, which is that this was a likeable read and the author deserves encouragement. The book isn’t perfect by any means but it is a first novel and does show promise. I would hope the author could build on her strengths. 1) The pitch: the publisher is pimping this as belonging to the Hilary Mantel / Maggie O’Farrell league of highbrow historical I have lots to say about this, and many many criticisms, but don’t want to write a long review! Also, because my complaints would outweigh my general response, which is that this was a likeable read and the author deserves encouragement. The book isn’t perfect by any means but it is a first novel and does show promise. I would hope the author could build on her strengths. 1) The pitch: the publisher is pimping this as belonging to the Hilary Mantel / Maggie O’Farrell league of highbrow historical literary fiction. I’m not convinced the author is on the same page here. If you go in expecting mainstream entertainment you may get along with this better. There are many detailed incidents of violence and sexual sadism (including rape) which are far closer to Game of Thrones than Bring Up the Bodies. 2) Language: I’ve seen reviewers on GR say the cod-historical over-bejewelled prose forced them to abandon this. The prose is an issue, did need toning down, and some metaphors are distinctly risible. The same goes for dialogue. It does calm down later on (or maybe I just got habituated). 3) Viewpoint: I’m sympathetic to feminist readings. However, writers should realise choice of viewpoint will have consequences. This is a story about aristocrats and royalty. Selecting a downwardly mobile middle class woman as narrator distances the reader from the action. An important part of the action concerns a gay male romantic triangle, so the female narrator character is doubly distanced. Also, she is based on a real person in history, and her actual historical conclusion might not sit well with a work of fiction which has a requirement for closure that history doesn’t provide. Jago’s choice of narrator is brave but it did bring big challenges which I’m not convinced she brought off. Right: long enough for now, more maybe later!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca Tait

    Beautifully written, an enticing tale of female friendship and love set in the court of King James I. A Net For Small Fishes really is historical fiction at it's best. The characters were all real people and the research that must have gone in to creating this fact based novel must have been extensive. I loved Anne, her drive to better her situation for her family, her loyalty to Frankie who felt like a sister to her, her love for the men in her life and her enduring courage all endeared her to Beautifully written, an enticing tale of female friendship and love set in the court of King James I. A Net For Small Fishes really is historical fiction at it's best. The characters were all real people and the research that must have gone in to creating this fact based novel must have been extensive. I loved Anne, her drive to better her situation for her family, her loyalty to Frankie who felt like a sister to her, her love for the men in her life and her enduring courage all endeared her to me. Frances Howard, was an equally compelling character, beautiful and young but more headstrong and a lot less considered, although her position afforded her certain protections, trouble found her easily. Lucy Jago paints a vivid picture, both of high court life and life in the poor districts of London as its residents scrape by by any means necessary. I think we've established I cry at books, quite a bit it turns out & this certainly got to me. It has left me with an overwhelming desire to find out more about Anne, Frankie & what happened after the Overbury affair.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Natalie "Curling up with a Coffee and a Kindle" Rampling

    I wanted to love this, but the writing style just didn't agree with me. Perhaps I wasn't in the concentrating frame of mind, but this just didn't keep my attention. I love any courtroom books, and historical fiction so thought I would love it, but it was too much of a challenging read for me at the moment. I wanted to love this, but the writing style just didn't agree with me. Perhaps I wasn't in the concentrating frame of mind, but this just didn't keep my attention. I love any courtroom books, and historical fiction so thought I would love it, but it was too much of a challenging read for me at the moment.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Hally

    2.5 rounded up because I appreciate the amount of research that would have gone into this. It's just not a very me book. I only picked it up because after seeing the comparisons to Portrait of a Lady on Fire I was expecting it to be a lesbian love story. But i'm sure history buffs will love it. 2.5 rounded up because I appreciate the amount of research that would have gone into this. It's just not a very me book. I only picked it up because after seeing the comparisons to Portrait of a Lady on Fire I was expecting it to be a lesbian love story. But i'm sure history buffs will love it.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    A sumptuously written historical fiction of the Stuart era. In places, particularly towards the start, very beautifully written and full of minute period detail which shows how well researched it is. A Net For Small Fishes recounts a real scandal that occurred during the reign of James I (of the combined Scottish and English crowns). This has to do with a catholic noblewoman who divorced her first husband in order to remarry, and the consequential events that shook the nation, and immortalised t A sumptuously written historical fiction of the Stuart era. In places, particularly towards the start, very beautifully written and full of minute period detail which shows how well researched it is. A Net For Small Fishes recounts a real scandal that occurred during the reign of James I (of the combined Scottish and English crowns). This has to do with a catholic noblewoman who divorced her first husband in order to remarry, and the consequential events that shook the nation, and immortalised the characters forever. More importantly however, it is the story of two women struggling to influence the course of their own lives, within a society determined not to let them. The plot appears to stay close to historical record (from my limited research whilst reading) whilst also spinning historical bias on its head and viewing this scandal with a potential different perspective - and with modern eyes a very likely take on the real events. I thought this was really interesting and clever - without giving away any spoilers, I will just say that the point of view is really intriguing and well imagined, and the author note at the end was fantastic. The ambiguity of interpretation of certain characters too such as the king is interesting - the reader is prompted to make up their own mind about some of his motivations, much as historians have to with lack of evidence for any single truth. The one thing I didn’t like was the fact that Frances was commonly referred to as ‘Frankie’ throughout - this felt like a modernisation but I have no idea if it would genuinely have been used or not. My thanks to #NetGalley and the publisher, Bloomsbury, for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

  16. 5 out of 5

    The Book Club

    A net for small fishes by Lucy Ago highlights a real life 17th century historical scandal, which took place in the reign of James I of England, a mix of facts and fictions which pictures the society of the time through the story of the friendship of two strong women: Countess Frances Howard and Mistress Anne Turner. Frankie is a member of influential catholic family in the Jacobean court and when she was 15 her parents arranged her marriage with the Earl of Essex. The marriage turns out to be a n A net for small fishes by Lucy Ago highlights a real life 17th century historical scandal, which took place in the reign of James I of England, a mix of facts and fictions which pictures the society of the time through the story of the friendship of two strong women: Countess Frances Howard and Mistress Anne Turner. Frankie is a member of influential catholic family in the Jacobean court and when she was 15 her parents arranged her marriage with the Earl of Essex. The marriage turns out to be a nightmare for Frankie, she is abused physically and emotionally. Anne and Frankie begin to form a strong bond as Anne starts dressing Frankie in a way which start bringing her an increase of public attention at royal court, causing displeasure to her husband. Despite the suffering of her marriage, Frankie puts a great effort into making it work, helped by Anne, to produced an heir that will increase her power, but she is met by an husband which is unable to perform sexually. In the meanwhile Anne situation becomes precarious as she is left widows and experiences betrayal. But the two friends have to face a great danger into a society ready to crush women who don’t conform with the limitations placed upon them. It was pleasant to listen to this well researched historical novel. Lucy Ago has been able to make us relive that historical period vividly through rich description of London and the competitive life at court. The characters of the two strong women from very different social backgrounds well depicted, and are portrayed as intelligent, brave and courageous. The language used is appropriate to the time, is colourfully vivid and you can hear Anne’s voice clearly as she the many political machinations, elbow jostling for favouritism and ascendancy at court. Overall, a well written and entertaining read, only fault a bit slow but aced in the first half. Thank you NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing for the free audiobook.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Fay Flude

    An intelligently written and well researched novel based on an unlikely friendship between Frances/Frankie Howard and dresser to nobility Anne Turner, encompassing the love story between the beautiful and privileged Howard girl and First Earl of Somerset Sir Robert Carr. I openly admit that I am an uncultured reader who shamelessly cares little for history so it was at times a hard going read for me as I found the filth and squalor bile inducing. How anyone can be unwashed and yet dress so elabor An intelligently written and well researched novel based on an unlikely friendship between Frances/Frankie Howard and dresser to nobility Anne Turner, encompassing the love story between the beautiful and privileged Howard girl and First Earl of Somerset Sir Robert Carr. I openly admit that I am an uncultured reader who shamelessly cares little for history so it was at times a hard going read for me as I found the filth and squalor bile inducing. How anyone can be unwashed and yet dress so elaborately in the splendour and pomp of gowns, fake hair, and painted faces leaves me feeling grubby and in need of a scalding hot scrub down! Setting aside my idiosyncrasies, I was able to appreciate the immense detail that brought to life this period of King James and the Royal Court. The power of families squabbling to be in prime position and the underhand ways to succour favour is portrayed vividly, and left me open mouthed at the bizarre way in which people behaved. I've never liked Alice in Wonderland for its surreal and frankly mad nature, and in the same way, A Net for Small Fishes produced a similar disquieting within me that I did not like but could not turn away from. The poverty and threat of disease, starvation and death is also minutely documented in the swish of Lucy Jago's pen, conveying the horror of how far one can fall in society and require the mercy of those around them. But this was not a forgiving or generous spirited time and Anne makes many unwise decisions in choosing over and over again to support Francis, for Frankie needs her marriage annulled and Sir Thomas Overbury, ever present friend of Robert Carr, silenced. The story is harsh and full of foreboding. Who will pay the price of making enemies, rather than alliances, within the Royal Court and who else will suffer? It is this element of the unknown that compels the reader to keep on turning the pages. Not really a book I would pick up again, but this will undoubtedly be read and enjoyed by many more than those who choose to not read it. Thank you to the author, publisher Netgalley and Pigeonhole for allowing me to read this historical novel.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Bronwyn

    In post-tudor England, Anne Turner is talented with a flair for fashion, without a leg to stand on in her class. Frances Howard is powerful, rich, and miserable. As the two cross paths, an unlikely yet powerful friendship is formed. But in a society where anyone can fall as quickly as they can rise, everything is all to play for. After a really slow start, I blasted through the last two thirds of the novel in one sitting. You naturally root for Anne and Frances, and although their wealth gap is In post-tudor England, Anne Turner is talented with a flair for fashion, without a leg to stand on in her class. Frances Howard is powerful, rich, and miserable. As the two cross paths, an unlikely yet powerful friendship is formed. But in a society where anyone can fall as quickly as they can rise, everything is all to play for. After a really slow start, I blasted through the last two thirds of the novel in one sitting. You naturally root for Anne and Frances, and although their wealth gap is impossible to ignore, you can't ignore their devotion to each-other. I would recommend this to any fan of historical fiction, female friendship and society-based fiction. Content warnings: TTC, Rape, Violence, Death Thank you to Netgalley and Bloomsbury for an e-ARC. All views are my own.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Pheadra

    This was a well researched account of the enduring love between Anne Turner and Frances Howard - a scandal that plunged the court of James I, into mayhem, following their actions that resulted in the view of the court, in the death of Thomas Overbury. From vastly different backgrounds their meeting, against the odds, sees a friendship blossom that ultimately costs them everything. Frances is beautiful and powerful coming from the Howard Dynasty and Anne is older and charming. The story evoked a This was a well researched account of the enduring love between Anne Turner and Frances Howard - a scandal that plunged the court of James I, into mayhem, following their actions that resulted in the view of the court, in the death of Thomas Overbury. From vastly different backgrounds their meeting, against the odds, sees a friendship blossom that ultimately costs them everything. Frances is beautiful and powerful coming from the Howard Dynasty and Anne is older and charming. The story evoked a myriad of emotions in me. Ultimately, the story may be summed up in this quote: " When Richard Weston was tried, he said, "This be a net for small fishes, that the great ones swim away". 4 and a half stars!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sue

    Lucy Jago does a great job of taking a true story of two famously maligned “murderous” women, and telling a sympathetic story of how it may have all come to pass. Heaps of historical interest and, particularly in the second half, a real page turner. I wasn’t completely convinced by the portrayal of their relationship - would the mutual feelings of loyalty, love and friendship really have lasted through all that, and despite their different social statuses? But in any case this was a very enjoyab Lucy Jago does a great job of taking a true story of two famously maligned “murderous” women, and telling a sympathetic story of how it may have all come to pass. Heaps of historical interest and, particularly in the second half, a real page turner. I wasn’t completely convinced by the portrayal of their relationship - would the mutual feelings of loyalty, love and friendship really have lasted through all that, and despite their different social statuses? But in any case this was a very enjoyable read. The nightmare of the Royal Court’s hierarchies, politics and feuds, and the posturing and fighting for survival will stay with me. I’d read about various King’s “favourites” in UK LGBT histories, so it was fascinating to read about Robert Carr. And I love the way Anne is cast as a flawed but strong, characterful woman with her own hopes, loves, dreams and aspiration - so real and so relevant even today.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Louise

    Very enjoyable stuff. Historical fiction set in the courts always has me amazed at the bed hopping and back stabbing that goes on,that put into a current day drama would just seem too far fetched. Two very strong lead female characters here,that you can't help but root for a happy ending for. Both strong willed,and independent,but easily put in their place by how women were treated back in the day. Very enjoyable stuff. Historical fiction set in the courts always has me amazed at the bed hopping and back stabbing that goes on,that put into a current day drama would just seem too far fetched. Two very strong lead female characters here,that you can't help but root for a happy ending for. Both strong willed,and independent,but easily put in their place by how women were treated back in the day.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jeannie Zelos

    A Net for Small Fishes, Lucy Jago Review from Jeannie Zelos book reviews Genre: General Fiction (Adult), Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction This book is based on a well known scandal – well known to many but nit to me, so I came in cold, not knowing the characters or events. I loved this read, took me back in time, I felt I was there with the people, and it conveyed the struggled females had so well. When I'm reading a historical novel I want to feel its real, for it to stay true to the time, and A Net for Small Fishes, Lucy Jago Review from Jeannie Zelos book reviews Genre: General Fiction (Adult), Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction This book is based on a well known scandal – well known to many but nit to me, so I came in cold, not knowing the characters or events. I loved this read, took me back in time, I felt I was there with the people, and it conveyed the struggled females had so well. When I'm reading a historical novel I want to feel its real, for it to stay true to the time, and this one was perfect. Clearly very well researched, not just in the events but in the ways of how people lived in that time. I didn't particularly like either of the female leads and yet – they did what they needed to do, according to the times they lived in. Life was hard for many, for those without money there was no support, nothing to stop them and their families starving. For those with money power reigned, until someone more wealthy or with closer ties to the Throne came along. Those on and close to the Throne, and so many others claiming wealth actually lived in a morass of debt, spending money they had no intention of paying, always knowing that because of their position those they owed either couldn't or wouldn't press for payment. It was almost a way of life, even the King lived life like that. Anne appeared to want advancement for security for her children. Who can say that's wrong? Even if the way she went about it didn't really feel right. I felt that she was almost in a trap of having taken one step, she was forced into the next, there being no way to go backwards, or even stay static. Not only did she have to worry about money and position but there was the issue of being female. Thinking of the time was that females were born sinful and have to live perfect lives to redeem that sin. Any excuse to blame them for anything is taken, and here poor Anne gets the full gamut of sin thrown at her, blamed for the most ridiculous of things. Frances, very beautiful, born to a wealthy and powerful family, but as was the way, females were pawns in life, used by their families for advancement. She was married at a young age to the most horrific of men. Abused horribly yet still determined to have a family she and Anne, who has become a good friend by now, seek some dubious methods to make it work. Of course it doesn't, and it leads them down some paths that cause issues later. Truth wasn't really a factor when being judged, and Anne was made a scapegoat for the sins of others IMO. She did do things that weren't right, but times were different, and she was probably scared of what would happen t her family. Frances, when it became clear she wasn't going to have a marriage and children, fell in love with someone who was dangerous for her and Anne, a man reputed to be the kings, lover, but who had many dangerous, powerful enemies. I kept thinking about them both, what would I do in that position. The answer: I don't know, who could, it was a very different time. Stars: Five, a gem of a novel, perfectly capturing the flavour of the time and the difficulties women faced in a male dominated world. Arc via Netgalley and publishers

  23. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    I want desperately to gush about this novel. It is a beautiful thing. I was lucky enough to be able to read pre-publication through Pigeonhole bookclub. Based on the lives of people in Court during the reign of James I (James VI of Scotland), it immediately drew me in and threw me into their lives. In much the same way that the protagonist (Anne Turner) was thrown into the life of Frances Howard. My admiration for Anne was immediate, a woman striving to better herself in what was most definitely I want desperately to gush about this novel. It is a beautiful thing. I was lucky enough to be able to read pre-publication through Pigeonhole bookclub. Based on the lives of people in Court during the reign of James I (James VI of Scotland), it immediately drew me in and threw me into their lives. In much the same way that the protagonist (Anne Turner) was thrown into the life of Frances Howard. My admiration for Anne was immediate, a woman striving to better herself in what was most definitely a man's world. Her quick wit and charm were infectious. I was hooked. Jago's research on this time period and subject is clear, real wills, letters and court proceedings all fill the pages. It was difficult for myself (and many other pigeonhole readers) not to fly off and do extra research to find out anything we could on the topic. But knowing that it would spoil the story, I restrained myself. I am glad I did, I am not sure if I had known the end, I would have enjoyed the journey half as much. For the not knowing is half the fun. I thoroughly enjoyed being able to read this with Lucy Jago there, adding in titbits about her 8 years of research and the little extras about life during this time period. Especially how life was so different street to street when Anne was forced to move house. Every step of the way I felt the atmosphere, the dirt, the smells, the struggle to survive. Then thrown into life at court, a battle of power amongst those important families (the Essex and Howards) really just being a battle of debts. It was equally fascinating and eye-opening. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fiction or books about the power of female friendship.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Gemma Swain

    I was gifted a copy of this book by the publisher, via Net Galley, in exchange for an honest review. As a fan of historical fiction I was looking forward to reading this book. I have to admit to being one of the few people on earth who didn’t enjoy Wolf Hall so when I read comments suggesting it was an ideal book for those feeling bereft at the end of Mantel’s trilogy I was suddenly apprehensive. I needn’t have worried! You’re instantly thrown into the world of Anne and Frances, and the court of I was gifted a copy of this book by the publisher, via Net Galley, in exchange for an honest review. As a fan of historical fiction I was looking forward to reading this book. I have to admit to being one of the few people on earth who didn’t enjoy Wolf Hall so when I read comments suggesting it was an ideal book for those feeling bereft at the end of Mantel’s trilogy I was suddenly apprehensive. I needn’t have worried! You’re instantly thrown into the world of Anne and Frances, and the court of King James. There’s so much drama, scandal and rumour that it’s hard to know where to turn and who to trust but Anne and Frances soon find each other and come to develop a deep and lasting friendship. I knew next to nothing about the plot and I felt that this deepened my enjoyment - there was something creeping around every corner and I could barely put this book down. There’s romance, friendship, intrigue, drama and a little bit of witchcraft, and everything comes together to make a fascinating story about the dangers of being too close to power, and also the dangers of being a woman unhappy in her marriage in the seventeenth century. It’s a tightly written novel and one that keeps your attention from beginning to end. I loved it!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ellie M

    Thanks to Netgalley & publisher for the ARC. Whilst many books have been centered around the Tudor court, I, personally, have read less books about the Stuarts, so this intrigued me, along with the description explaining it was based on a true story. And I really enjoyed this book and was totally immersed in the retelling of the Overbury Scandal, and the history of the friendship between the Countess of Essex and Mistress Anne Turner. The Countess of Essex (Frances Howard or Frankie) was a young Thanks to Netgalley & publisher for the ARC. Whilst many books have been centered around the Tudor court, I, personally, have read less books about the Stuarts, so this intrigued me, along with the description explaining it was based on a true story. And I really enjoyed this book and was totally immersed in the retelling of the Overbury Scandal, and the history of the friendship between the Countess of Essex and Mistress Anne Turner. The Countess of Essex (Frances Howard or Frankie) was a young and unhappily married woman. Her husband was an unpleasant character and engaged in what today would be regarded as domestic abuse. The novel contains graphic descriptions of abuse, including physical and sexual, but they give necessary context to the story, which is written in the first person by Mistress Anne Turner. Mistress Anne Turner was the wife of a doctor who attended James I and has access to the court and went to dress the ladies including Frankie. She and Frankie formed a close friendship, initially to help Frankie have a happy marriage, but as the abuse continued they set about using all means possible in a bid for the Countess of Essex to be parted from her husband. Whilst the Countess of Essex was eventually able to remarry the man she loved, it came at great personal tragedy.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Nicola Mackenzie-Smaller

    I absolutely loved this. I suspect it might end up in a list of my favourite books of the year, which is a bold claim in February. This is the tale of the friendship between Anne Turner, a doctor’s wife who invented a way of making bright yellow collars and cuffs, and Frances Howard, who married the Earl of Essex and was part of a great scandal in the court of James the First. This book is incredibly full of rich historical detail, bringing to life (sometimes too vividly) the sights, sounds and s I absolutely loved this. I suspect it might end up in a list of my favourite books of the year, which is a bold claim in February. This is the tale of the friendship between Anne Turner, a doctor’s wife who invented a way of making bright yellow collars and cuffs, and Frances Howard, who married the Earl of Essex and was part of a great scandal in the court of James the First. This book is incredibly full of rich historical detail, bringing to life (sometimes too vividly) the sights, sounds and smells of life in early 17th century England. It explores themes of class and of what it meant to be a woman in these times and paints a picture of an amazing friendship between our protagonists. I found myself moved to tears by the end, as the scandal unfolds and the tyranny of court provides a truly gut-wrenching ending. Fabulous. Read with The Pigeonhole.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lynne

    Historical fiction is not a genre I would normally choose to read. However this was a choice from my book club, and featured two female historical characters instead of the usual plethora of powerful men, so I thought id give it a try. I am so pleased I did. It us set both in the courtly world and that of Jacobean London, warts and all. The two women, Anne Turner and Frances Howard are from different backgrounds but form an unbreakable bond which endures through a notorious scandal that shocked Historical fiction is not a genre I would normally choose to read. However this was a choice from my book club, and featured two female historical characters instead of the usual plethora of powerful men, so I thought id give it a try. I am so pleased I did. It us set both in the courtly world and that of Jacobean London, warts and all. The two women, Anne Turner and Frances Howard are from different backgrounds but form an unbreakable bond which endures through a notorious scandal that shocked the Jacobean world. Its a tale of intrigue, betrayal, cruelty and love in a world very alien and more basic to our own. Sights, sounds and smells are effectively described, drawing the reader out of the cosy modern world and into the intrigue and chaos of seventeenth century England. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys well written prose and beautifully crafted characters.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Lesley 129

    Somewhere between the language, overdone metaphors and feminist retelling of an historical scandal, this book lost me. I’m all in favour of telling the story from an unusual point of view, in this case a lower middle class widow, but in telling the story from Anne’s POV the author had to either place her in situations I found a little unbelievable so she could ‘overhear’ what happened or skip over the events any tell them in retrospect. This created a sense of distance to the events that wasn’t Somewhere between the language, overdone metaphors and feminist retelling of an historical scandal, this book lost me. I’m all in favour of telling the story from an unusual point of view, in this case a lower middle class widow, but in telling the story from Anne’s POV the author had to either place her in situations I found a little unbelievable so she could ‘overhear’ what happened or skip over the events any tell them in retrospect. This created a sense of distance to the events that wasn’t overcome by Anne and ‘Frankie’s’ supposed close relationship. Another small thing - the book refers to the Pendle Witches on several occasions, but gives the impression they are from Yorkshire! As a resident of East Lancashire I feel the necessity to correct any misunderstandings as to the whereabouts of my home town. (Not that I’m proud of the treatment of marginalised women in Lancashire, but just putting the record straight).

  29. 4 out of 5

    Amina Kara

    This was such a brilliant read! I didn't know the back story to this, so I went into it blind. That really added to the reading experience because I really didn't know what was going to happen from one page to the next. Considering the time period we went back to, I felt the book was really well researched and the descriptions of the scenes was beautifully done. You could really picture the scenes as you were reading. I thought Anne and Frankie made some questionable decisions, but I had to admi This was such a brilliant read! I didn't know the back story to this, so I went into it blind. That really added to the reading experience because I really didn't know what was going to happen from one page to the next. Considering the time period we went back to, I felt the book was really well researched and the descriptions of the scenes was beautifully done. You could really picture the scenes as you were reading. I thought Anne and Frankie made some questionable decisions, but I had to admire the strong bond they shared and the courage and bravery they showed in some tough situations. The story was so sad and heartbreaking and I found myself feeling desperately sorry for Anne. Thank you to Pigeonhole and Lucy Jago for the chance to read this book. I would highly recommend it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Helen White

    At the court of King James I Frances Howard is young and beautiful and from a powerful family yet none of this can free her from her abusive marriage to the Earl of Essex. In contrast Anne Turner is married with six children and can provide Frances with genuine friendship. As they manoeuvre their way through court and life Frances tests Anne's loyalty with ways in which to escape her marriage. If you like historical fiction, court intrigue and looking at how women in history were treated then th At the court of King James I Frances Howard is young and beautiful and from a powerful family yet none of this can free her from her abusive marriage to the Earl of Essex. In contrast Anne Turner is married with six children and can provide Frances with genuine friendship. As they manoeuvre their way through court and life Frances tests Anne's loyalty with ways in which to escape her marriage. If you like historical fiction, court intrigue and looking at how women in history were treated then this is for you. While it's not my favourite period of history it was interesting. I did find Frances being referred to as Frankie annoying (Frankie Howard seriously) and if anything my frustrations with the characters and their actions is probably a sign that it was an absorbing read. Thanks to netgalley and the publishers for the review copy.

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