The Incendium Plot by

Author: A.D. Swanston
Publisher: Corgi
Format: Paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction


Summer, 1572 and England is vulnerable. Fear of plague and insurrection taint the air, and heresy, fanaticism and religious unrest seethe beneath the surface of society. Rumour and mistrust lead to imprisonment, torture and sometimes murder. To the young lawyer Christopher Radcliff and his patron and employer, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, the prospects for peace are grave—and as Leicester’s chief intelligencer, he is charged with investigating both the rumours of rebellion at home and invasion from abroad. 

But Radcliff’s own life is far from orderly. His relationship with the widow Katherine Allingham is somewhat turbulent and the cut-throat world of court politics leaves no room for indiscretions.


THE INCENDIUM PLOT is, no doubt, the first in a new series by British author, Andrew Swanston, who sets his novels in some of the most intriguing moments, in British history. Here his MC, Christopher Radcliffe, carries the weight of the story set amid the turbulent years of Elizabethan rule, and in Paris during the Bartholomew Day massacre of Protestant Huguenots by French Catholics, that turned the streets of Paris red with blood.

All of which would lead you to believe that this is an action-packed read. 

Sadly, despite the author’s best efforts, and all the weight of background details, which in and of themselves are intriguing (if you don’t mind historical info-dumps) I was left feeling like the narrative lacked any real depth of emotion. That is to say, there is a lot of telling, but no real ‘involvement’ and thus, no personal connection or emotion to what’s happening. So that while we know people are being murdered and butchered, then burned—women and children included—these events are seen as through a historical lens, rather than the MC’s personal POV, which makes this seem more like a historical review, than a suspenseful mystery.

There are all the right elements and ingredients, spies, palace intrigue, real characters and events from history, by the author fails to convince—well, me at least—that our erstwhile hero is actually there, as a witness to this terrible moment in time.

The tragedy therefore, is seen at a distance, and while no one wants to actually feel these events, setting a novel around these kinds of historical moments, should reflect some sort of heartfelt response. Even if the character feels horrified, or terrified for his life. Sadly, Radcliffe, while poking a man’s eye out almost by accident with his dagger, comes across as somewhat whiney. 

Most of the characters, imagined and real, never get fully fleshed out. Though Radcliffe is likeable enough character—who I never fully warmed too—we’re only given scant details of his background. Which begs the question, how did he end up as Leicester’s Chief Intelligencer to begin with? 

To sum up, the historical settings are outstanding, the characterizations somewhat lacking, and while parts of novel’s the dialogue bordered on cliched, the over-all read was enjoyable enough more so because of the time period it was set in. Personally, I would have liked less meandering exposition, more character building, and a little less traipsing around the French countryside.

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