This Deceitful Light by Jemahl Evans [Book Review]
This Deceitful Light is the sequel to The Last Roundhead and was well worth the wait. Reading it was like being back in the 17th Century. More than just history though, there’s a strong mystery to it which drives the first half of the book. There’s also a strong sense of underlying treachery which I’m sure drives the title of This Deceitful Light. The whole volume is held together with the background and context to Candy fighting his only duel, with Sir John Hurry, who we first met in the Last Roundhead.
This Deceitful Light
This Deceitful Light carries on the story of Sir Blandford Candy, his warts and all autobiography set down in his twilight years in early eighteenth century London where he is the last surviving roundhead. This volume covers from autumn 1643 until a little after the battle of Marston Moor in 1644. Candy is a Captain of the Scouts and gets involved in uncovering treachery and deceit. Some of this is mirrored in his ‘present day’ of 1719 where his nephew is selling shares in the South Seas company…
There are two primary mysteries in this volume. One is a relatively straightforward murder mystery, and the other is a longer running treacherous undercurrent of the civil wars that continues from the Last Roundhead, and no doubt into future volumes of Candy’s story. Each of the mysteries, especially the latter, are multi-layered. Several of the layers were unwrapped during the course of the volume, but there are still some layers left to be revealed. For example, who has been writing the anonymous notes to Candy?
There’s also a strong sense of the uncertainty and lack of clear objectives of the Parliamentarian leaders in the first civil war. Candy meets Cromwell and the Fairfaxes in the time before they become the real leaders of the army. He also has tangential dealings with Manchester, Leven and other senior Parliamentarians. While they all oppose the King, and strongly enough so to take up arms, they don’t agree on what comes next. As the start to win the war their alliance starts to fall apart, preventing them from finishing it when they have an opportunity. We see something similar on the other side through the lenses of Candy’s oldest brother and his sister. The former appears as an antagonist and the latter writes to his sister Elizabeth.
Overall there is a sense that those with power and money are jostling to be on the winning side without offending or tipping off the side they are currently ensconced with. For some it’s about driving home their convictions, but for most it’s about maintaining the social order as it is falling apart, and ensuring that they keep their head on their shoulders.
Delightful Use of Language
What I enjoyed most about This Deceitful Light was the language. Candy is an inventive curser, and as one would expect there’s a heavy reliance on mid-seventeenth century expressions. Each of these is carefully explained in a footnote the first time it appears. Perhaps the best use of invective is the duelling scene near the end of the story. Candy is offered an opportunity to recant his insults to Sir John Hurry, and instead he repeats them all and adds some more for good measure. It was like a 17th Century episode of the Thick of It, but with fewer swear words.
The history is put in context in the end notes, in the same way as the Last Roundhead did. Often Candy’s recollections are biased or mis-remembered, and there’s a fair setting of the historical record straight by Jemahl Evans. There are also a couple of appendices to explain to us some of the finer points of the internal wranglings of the reformation in England, calendars, and money, all of which are strange to the 21st century citizen.