A review of The Net of Steel by Fiona Buckley – coming soon

It’s hard to believe that The Net of Steel is Fiona Buckley’s twenty-second Ursula Blanchard (now Ursula Stannard) mystery, and the series is still going strong.    And in fact, it might even be getting better…   

As The Net of Steel opens, Ursula faces a number of life’s milestones: her son, Harry, has gotten engaged; the aunt and uncle who were her harsh-but-mostly-adequate guardians have passed away; and even the death of Sir Francis Walsingham, with whom she had a complicated working relationship, turned out to have an unexpected emotional impact.   But Ursula still (mostly) maintains her appreciation of the small and normal things in life, with only an occasional ear to the “call of the wild geese” that leads to that other aspect of her personality – her role as a sometime spy for her half-sister, Queen Elizabeth I.

Unfortunately, however, in this case, the wild geese don’t call to her – that other life comes calling on her instead.     As an agent for Elizabeth, Ursula has made some enemies.    And now the pirates from the previous book, Golden Cargoes, are out for revenge.     The rough outline of what’s going on becomes clear rather early on, but the devil is in the details.  Who are the Mercer brothers going to target next as they work their way closer to Ursula herself?   And what role is Julien de la Roche playing?   He’s the son of Ursula’s second husband, Matthew, and thus he’s also Harry’s half-brother.  But did he really break free of the Mercers’ influence or is he part of the plot too?     

As with most of the Ursula Blanchard series, The Net of Steel is more of a historical intrigue/spy story with a mystery sub-plot than a true historical mystery.    But either way, it’s a treat to read.   For some reason, Buckley’s descriptions of everyday Elizabethan life are still fascinating, even twenty-two books in.   And if readers want a bit more excitement, there are a few truly terrifying moments towards the end, although of course, everything eventually gets resolved.   

Perhaps best of all, however, there’s a nice hint at the end that there may be another book in the works.   After all the chaos and  hullabaloo, as Ursula is settling in as mistress of Faldene, she hopes that the queen won’t decide she needs her services again.  But then she muses:  “Don’t lie to yourself, Mistress Stannard.  You know quite well that you hope she will.”    And I’ll be looking forward to that twenty-third book!   And finally, my thanks to Seven House and Net Galley for the advanced review copy…

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