Six years have passed since England’s King Charles II returned from exile to reclaim the throne, ushering in a new era of stability for his subjects.
Except for Elizabeth Milton. The daughter of notorious poet John Milton, Elizabeth has never known her place in this shifting world—except by her father’s side. By day she helps transcribe his latest masterpiece, the epic poem Paradise Lost, and by night she learns languages and sword fighting. Although she does not dare object, she suspects that he’s training her for a mission whose purpose she cannot fathom.
Until one night the reason becomes clear: the king’s men arrive at her family’s country home to arrest her father. Determined to save him, Elizabeth follows his one cryptic clue and journeys to Oxford, accompanied by her father’s mysterious young houseguest, Antonio Vivani, a darkly handsome Italian scientist who surprises her at every turn. Funny, brilliant, and passionate, Antonio seems just as determined to protect her father as she is—but can she trust him with her heart?
When the two discover that Milton has planted an explosive secret in the half-finished Paradise Lost—a secret the king and his aristocratic supporters are desperate to conceal—Elizabeth is faced with a devastating choice: cling to the shelter of her old life or risk cracking the code, unleashing a secret that could save her father…and tear apart the very fabric of society.
Historical fiction is still very much a niche within YA – the closest you usually get are faux-medieval worlds and fantasies set within the Regency era – so to find something set in the 17th century and to incorporate Milton within it got me all excited.
Sadly, my excitement ended rather quickly.
First and foremost, this is yet another historical novel where the protagonist is 100% modern. She’s fluent in five languages and a competent swordsman, making her more educated than pretty much the vast majority of Europe, even the male nobility. And it hurts her to to think that her father believes that a woman’s place is subservient to her husband (you know, like every single last man – and a good majority of the women at the time believed). What makes it worse is that it all feels so arbitrary because none of her other three sisters are as educated. To be fair, one is clearly simple, but the other two? They didn’t get the same education…because? It seems like it was done out of a nod to historical accuracy, but it makes his focus on her seem all the more jarring. It stands out to only educate the one, and since it was to ensure that she would have the tools to go on this scavenger hunt later, talk about putting your eggs in one basket. What if she wasn’t the best choice of the three? And what’s worse, is that at the end of the book, she essentially gets disowned for having developed a love of learning when he encouraged it. And it’s the more ridiculous because he cites a fear of scandal, when he was convicted of plotting to kill the king. You don’t get more scandalous than that.
Speaking of ridiculous, the hunt to solve the mystery borders on that as well, with leaps of logic along the lines of Elizabeth deciding that she and Antonio are characters in this poem because the names of Adam and Eve start with A and E respectively. Seriously. And it’s all over a vial of liquid mercury? Or some kind of space elixir that can supposedly resurrect people that will result in the downfall of Europe and create a world war because it’ll destroy the notion of the Divine Right of Kings and belief in Chris. It’s just…silly.
I just couldn’t take this book seriously when the author clearly does. I suppose if you like books like The Da Vinci Code you could very well enjoy it – it’s that kind of absurdist fun – but if leaps of logic like the ones articulated above make you roll your eyes, keep looking, because once they start rolling, they’ll likely won’t stop.
Verdict: Skip it