When I first heard about “The Silvered Heart”, I thought it sounded exactly like my kind of book: set in the 17th century with a highwaywoman as a protagonist – a historical adventure with a bit of romance is just my thing!
The novel is a fictional account of the life of Lady Katherine Ferrers, who lived in Hertfordshire in the 17th century and who is the most popular candidate for the role of the “Wicked Lady”, a mysterious highwaywoman said to have terrorised the area. Unfortunately, little is known about Katherine and even less about the Wicked Lady – did she ever even exist or is her legend mere folklore? Seeing that, Clemens does a wonderful job in combining fact and fiction and weaving together the lives of a high-born lady and a highwaywoman.
Forced into a marriage of convenience, Katherine finds herself neglected by her husband. The civil war has ravaged the country, and she must struggle to make ends meet and manage the impoverished estate. Hunger and misery – and the determination to gain back what she thinks is rightfully hers; the lifestyle of the privileged – drive her to desperate deeds: she turns to highway robbery. This brings her together with Ralph Chaplin, a notorious highwayman. Wielding a pistol and halting carriages in order to deprive their passengers of their valuables, Katherine risks her life… but finds love.
The life of a highwaywoman never features in the story quite as much as I expected. Katherine’s motivation for her actions is nicely fleshed out, yet I could have hoped for a bit more action and adventure. Historical details seem accurate and rich in terms of the everyday life (which is the kind of detail that primarily interests me), but as Katherine mostly stays in one place/area and learns about the affairs of the world - politics, war; the struggle between the King’s men and the parliament - through her husband and his friends, the bigger picture remains a little vague. On the other hand, this aspect is an accurate portrayal of a woman’s role at the time (something Katherine occasionally laments) which was to bear children and run the household.
This may not have been quite the swashbuckling adventure I expected, but there is plenty of drama, intrigue and passion. The characters are well developed, they have their strengths and their weaknesses, they have hidden depths. The language is beautiful and flows well; I especially enjoyed the vivid description of nature and the countryside. Of my “three novels set in the 17th century” this was the one I finished first.