By Martin Elsant
How far would you go for freedom? Would you contest a centuries-old law? Throw in with a notorious privateer? Sail across an ocean? Challenge the Queen of England?
These questions and more are at the heart of a fast-moving historical fiction novel by Martin Elsant. There is so much in this story to keep both history lovers and bibliophiles turning pages until the very end.
Dr. and Mrs. Will Ames are Jewish entrepreneurs and philanthropists who’ve recently lost many of their business holdings and contracts through the shenanigans and ill will of their former lawyer.
Christopher Hatton is a reformed libertine turned reluctant lawyer. A widower and confidant of Queen Elizabeth I, Hatton also has a secret past full of religious turmoil.
Richard Shaw is the Ames’ lawyer. He’s undertaken a dangerous course politically, legally and socially: challenging a royal edict of 1290 “expelling the Jews from England.” (Shaw’s wife’s not too thrilled with the idea, either.) Can he make his clients’ case without losing his own head in the process?
Meanwhile, tensions between England and Spain simmer on full boil. The Queen fears a Spanish invasion. The Spanish Inquisition is running at fever pitch. Protestants are at odds with Catholics. Catholics are at odds with Protestants. Practicing Jews are caught in the middle. There’s plenty of corruption, deceit, religious bigotry, back-stabbing, palace plotting, avarice, and political maneuvering in between. Also a brisk courtroom drama. And Sir Francis Drake. Ditto taxes. Lots of taxes.
Set largely in 16th century England amid the tumult and turbulence of religious wars, both internal and external, this story unearths more history than you’ll learn in most classrooms. With great skill and literary dexterity, the author weaves a rich and colorful tapestry of history, romance, political gamesmanship and court intrigue. Story arcs and dangling loose ends from prior books in the series are tied up into a satisfying conclusion.
Additionally, there’s something radiant and incandescent in the closing chapters as the story soars on wings of hope into a New World and a place where “impossible dreams” can come true.
It’d make a good movie. (I’m thinking maybe Jake Gyllenhaal or Chris Pine and Scarlett Johansson or Elizabeth Banks as principals.)
Acts of Dreams is the third and final installment in The Inquisition Trilogy. If you haven’t yet added the series to your library, now would be good.
Our Rating: 4.0
Also reviewed on Discovery/Reedsy Books.