CJ Richardson's The Rippon Spurrier
Review posted by Amanda Ellison
Author CJ Richardson transports her readers to the febrile and tumultuous world of the aftermath of dissolution in her latest book, The Rippon Spurrier.
The eponymous spurrier is Robert, a talented silversmith and loyal long-time servant to Thomas Markenfield, of Markenfield Hall in the north-east of England. Like his father before him, Robert feels a strong bond with both his master and his heritage. The novel navigates Robert’s narrative journey and that of his wife, the heavily pregnant Catherine. A natural survivor, Catherine was maimed by a horse as a child, robbing her of an eye. While many would have spurned a female with such an affliction, Robert sees only Catherine’s inner attributes and the couple make a strong team, in which Robert draws much courage and wisdom from his wife. Along the way, the two learn that fidelity to one’s master is not always warranted, as betrayal asserts itself as a dominant theme. Richardson presents her protagonist in such a way that the reader roots for him and – in true pantomime style! – wants to shout out and warn him against the dangers that lurk at almost every turn.
The novel is permeated with the sense of fearful apprehension that accompanied the reign of Protestant sovereign, Elizabeth I. The perceptive and pragmatic Catherine is all too aware of the need to treat all acquaintances – and indeed close allies - with circumspection; this is a highly-charged era in history, wherein dropping one’s guard could have fatal consequences. When survival is on the line, best friends and neighbours can become treacherous enemies …
The Rippon Spurrier is structured chronologically and the story is recounted from multiple perspectives, enabling readers an insight into the motivating factors behind the actions of the main players. Increasing the level of suspense is the short time-frame, spanning the few short, dramatic months at the end of 1569 and the early days of 1570. As tension builds, the reader becomes invested in the fate of the characters, largely due to Richardson’s characterisation and world-building, built on the foundation of thorough research. The suspense is palpable from the very early stages of the novel: Is Thomas Markenfield really the benevolent and protective master that Robert believes him to be? Who is the sinister Samuel Fenton and what role is he to play? And what role is the Countess of Northumberland to play in this story of rebellion? A succession of questions ensure that the pages keep turning.
Ultimately, CJ Richardson takes what could be dry historical facts and transforms the narrative into one that lives and breathes – The Rippon Spurrier is a superior example of the historical fiction genre.