Book Review: The Swift and the Harrier by Minette Walters

A civil war in England breaks out in 1642 tearing the countryside apart, forcing families and villages to decide whether they support Parliamentarians or the King.

This is a beautifully told tale of a female physician Jayne Swift who is caught up in the war. From a Royalist family, she declares herself neutral prepared to offer her medical knowledge to people who need her from either side. She meets William Harrier who has many mysterious hats raising her curiosity each time their paths cross.

You might think that this is a novel about war but it is much more than that. It’s a novel about a strong and independent woman forging a career while the war rages around her. She’s an unusual character for the era – straight talking, single minded, witty as she is charming and knowledgeable. I suspect that a real- life character such as Jayne might have had many more difficulties in the day. Walters however does a good job in throwing many challenges Jaynes way and we as the reader constantly cheer for her.

As for William Harrier, he is a mystery – a mercenary, a tough fighter, wearing coats of different colours, his true character slowly evolves as does his interest in Jayne.

The medical knowledge and practices were fascinating and no doubt thoroughly researched and the siege of Lyme well conveyed. I’d not read a book about the Civil war before and there was a large focus on the content of battles and the history of both sides.

What I did find interesting is that the relationship between Jayne and William takes a back seat, weaving in and out of the story until the end when the last two chapters provide a quick summary. This surprised me a little as it felt like an information dump.

Having said that, I did enjoy the book, the writing and appreciated the history. It’s easy to read and although long, is very quickly absorbing.

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