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Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Chronicles of Christoval Alvarez by Ann Swinfen

There are seven books so far in this historical series that takes place in Elizabethan England.   

The Secret World of Christoval Alvarez, the first book in the series, deals with Christoval's inadvertent involvement in the Babington Plot.  

Brief description:  It is the year 1586. England is awash with traitors, plotting to assassinate the Queen and bring about a foreign invasion. The young physician Christoval Alvarez, a refugee from the horrors of the Portuguese Inquisition, is coerced into becoming a code-breaker and spy in Sir Francis Walsingham’s espionage service. In the race to thwart the plot, who will triumph – the ruthless conspirators or the equally ruthless State?

Many famous characters make an appearance:  Sir Francis Walsingham, the Queen's Spymaster;  Anthony Babington, known for the plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth and put the Scottish Queen Mary on the throne of England; Thomas Phelippes, cryptographer and intelligencer for Walsingham; and Arthur Gregory, who created and repaired seals for intercepted letters.  Lesser know names are those of Robert Poley, John Ballard, and Chidiock Tichborne.

(Chidiock Tichborne, one of the conspirators, is only alluded to in the novel.  The reason I'm mentioning him is because of his elegy which I read many years ago and which represents a sad comment on political gambits in the 16th c.  He was only twenty-three at the time he wrote that sad little poem and was shortly thereafter executed.)

I sped through this series in late August, reading one right after the other, and becoming more intrigued with each one.  Christoval, more often known as Kit, has a wide variety of friends, both high and low.   The historical events and characters are well-researched, and both the historical and fictional characters have richness and depth.

Although I enjoyed the first book, it is not the best in the series--each book gained in verisimilitude making me feel I was a part of Kit's world.

The reviews below are brief and deal only with the historical events that our character lives through and the Elizabethan world to which she belongs--because in addition to being Portugese and Jewish, Kit is a girl disguised as a boy.  In the first book, she is only 16, but Kit grows up during the last of Elizabeth's reign.  The historical events are compelling, but even more fascinating are Kit's personal friends and adventures.  

Book 2 
 The Enterprise of England  finds Kit, still guarding her secret, on a mission to the Netherlands.  The novel also covers the Spanish Armada and the attempted invasion of England.  Sir Francis Drake does not come off well, which is historically accurate, but often forgotten.

Book 3 
The Portugese Affair is a sad and tawdry account of the English Expedition, an attempt to drive the Spanish out of Portugal and place Dom Antonio of Aviz on the throne.  Sir Francis Drake once again proves that his own arrogance and greed are paramount.

Book 4
Bartholomew Fair covers the event in 1589 when the soldiers from the English Expedition, who were dismissed without pay, attempt to get recompense, but there is also a more secretive plot in play.

Book 5
In Suffer the Little Children, the author makes clear the fate of street children and orphans in 16th c. London.    Sir Francis Walsingham is dying, and there is another plot against Queen Elizabeth.

Book 6
Voyage to Muscovy has Kit on a secret mission to Russia in an effort to find a missing agent.  The historical details of Russia at this time and of actual historical characters are fascinating.

Book 7
The Play's the Thing deals with Kit's return from Muscovy and her post at St. Thomas' Hospital has been given to another.  Kit takes work as a copyist with Jame Burbage's company, but plays of both Will Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe go missing.

Such brief descriptions of such engrossing novels!  If you enjoy historical fiction and characters that grow and transform throughout a series, you might want to give The Chronicles of Christoval Alvarez a try.



  1. What an interesting character! I do love a good historical mystery so I'll have to add this series to my radar.

    1. The books were kind of like the old "bet you can't eat just one" potato chip line. I couldn't quit, and each book was better than the last!

  2. It says a lot about a series when you can't help but read one book after the other. Kit sounds like a character worth getting to know and following.

    1. Kit is a great character and the secondary characters are well-developed as well. I love the history of this period, and the author picks on so many incidents that are fascinating and not always well known.