Among the slew of Tudor-era historical fiction novels The Locksmith’s Daughter stands out with an interesting premise: its protagonist is a female whose primary identity is not that of someone’s wife or mistress. On the contrary, Mallory Bright has a trade – of sorts. She can pick any lock.
This being the 16th century, Mallory – who has learned the skill from her locksmith father – cannot officially enter the profession. In fact, after an ill-considered youthful indiscretion, she is a social outcast and all but confined to her father’s house in disgrace, where she nurses both physical and emotional wounds. At the age of just twenty-one, it seems that all options for the future are closed to her, including that of an advantageous marriage, not that Mallory is interested.
But all that changes when her talent comes to the attention of her father’s old friend Sir Francis Walsingham, who serves as Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster. Impressed with her abilities, Walsingham recruits Mallory for an unheard-of position for a woman – that of a secret agent to be trained and deployed in search of Catholic leaders who plan to overthrow England’s government and put a Rome-friendly monarch on its throne.
Success soon ensues as Mallory’s work leads to the uncovering of a Catholic plot. Yet she also begins to struggle with doubts as Walsingham’s men round up the suspects and throw them into the Tower, leaving in their wake empty neighborhoods and terrified children. Is the purity of the faith worth destroying the lives of fellow Englishmen and women who have peacefully coexisted with their neighbors for decades?
The Locksmith’s Daughter is a work of fiction that proposes a tantalizing possibility that some of Walsingham spies may have been women, even though history did not record their names. As an astute politician and the father of modern espionage, it is unlikely Walsingham did not consider the benefits of using women in that role, especially in an era when they were not allowed to work outside the home, except as domestic servants or companions to wealthy young ladies. Talk about a perfect cover!
But, in a broader sense, the novel explores the themes of religion, tolerance, national loyalty, identity, and the role of women. With a secondary storyline that features Elizabethan playwrights and actors, and the fledgling theater scene, it is a satisfying historical novel that will appeal to the many fans of the Tudors and their world.
If you like historical mysteries, check out Silent Water, a Jagiellon Mystery Book 1, set at the 16th century royal court in Cracow. It’s available in ebook and paperback on Amazon and FREE to read on Kindle Unlimited.