The Marigold Chain by Stella Riley



 Originally published 1983 by Headline; Kindle Edition published by Stella Riley, 2012

PUBLISHER’S BLURB:  It is 1666 – the year when people who take prophecy seriously believe that the world is going to end.  For Chloe Herveaux – twenty years old, half-French and practical – marriage to wild, unpredictable Alex Deveril offers escape from a home she hates. For Alex, it is a refuge of a different kind. But while the marriage remains in name only and both, for reasons of their own, agree to seek an annulment, other forces are gathering.  England is once again at war with the Dutch and Prince Rupert, now commanding the Royal Navy, suspects that sabotage is at work within the fleet. Instructed to find the arch-traitor, Alex enters a dark labyrinth of intrigue – where no life is safe and nothing is what it seems.  Chloe, meanwhile, navigates the malice and scandal of Charles 11’s licentious Court and plots a course of her own aimed at financial independence. But as the surprising facets of Mr Deveril’s personality are gradually revealed to her, the long-awaited annulment becomes a double-edged sword.  Absorbed in his search for a traitor, Alex spares little thought for his bride – until a hot June night on the Falcon Stairs when he and Chloe stand united by tragedy.  As the flames of the Great Fire sweep over London, Alex and Chloe face their ultimate test. Their world is at risk … their choices may save it.

RHFL Classification:

Restoration London, Heat level 1
REVIEW RATING : 5 stars  (I’d give it more if I could!)

Review by Caz

I had a copy of this book in the early 1980s and remember it was one of my “go-to” reads. But it disappeared from my collection several years ago – I don’t know if I lent it to someone and didn’t get it back, or inadvertently donated it to a local charity shop – but I’ve been looking to get another copy ever since. It’s been out of print, along with Stella Riley’s other titles, and second hand copies are few and far between and ridiculously expensive – so I was doing a happy dance when I discovered that this title had finally been reissued in e-book form.

The action is set in London in 1666. Charles II has been restored to the throne, London has survived the Plague but there is more tragedy to come, and amongst all this, we meet the dashing Alexander Deveril and his friends, and Chloe Herveaux, a young woman of anglo-French descent who resides with her wastrel brother.

The characterisation in this book is superb. Alex is splendidly witty, charming and clever, but he has a tongue that can wound at twenty paces, and frequently uses it to that effect. In anger, he pushes people away, making hurtful comments as though he wants to see just how far he can push his friends before they admit he’s worthless and give up on him for good. But at other times, he knows exactly the right thing to say in order to ease a difficult situation or alleviate someone’s grief. He’s a fascinating contradiction and in the hands of a less-skilled writer, he could have been easy to dislike; but Riley keeps to the right side of the fine line and balances Alex’s sometimes cruel side with his sense of goodness and honour. He’s gorgeous, well-read, a consummate swordsman and horseman and, bereft of employment somewhat dangerous as in order to alleviate the boredom of inaction, he embroils himself in all sorts of high-jinks and pranks.

Riley writes the relationships between Alex and his friends, Giles Beckwith and Daniel Fawsley very well indeed and in fact all the secondary characters are very well fleshed-out.

Chloe is clearly Alex’s ideal partner. She is able to match him when it comes to their verbal sparring, although she doesn’t have the same propensity to cruelty when things don’t go her way. I love the scene at the ridiculously over-the-top banquet when they are so “in tune” with each other; and later, following a tragedy, the way they can be quietly supportive of each other. The romance unfolds beautifully and while it is the main focus of the story, it is superbly woven in with the other elements; Alex’s search for the traitor who is aiding the Dutch in their war against the English; the Great Fire of London; the tragic death of a dear friend.

Several historical figures feature in the story, most notably Charles II, to whom Alex and Chloe have to apply for the solution to a particularly pressing problem. Even though his appearances in the novel are brief, he’s painted as more than just the “Merry Monarch”; he’s clearly very shrewd and has an excellent sense of humour – and despite the fact that he did actually flaunt his mistresses before his wife, he’s a difficult character to dislike. Prince Rupert is shown to be an exceptional military mind who inspires great loyalty in those – like Alex – who follow him; and there are appearances by other well-known figures of the court such as Lady Castlemaine and James, Duke of York (later James II) and other significant figures such as Samuel Pepys and Christopher Wren.

Some historical novels set in London don’t really make much use of it as a location, but in The Marigold Chain, the author uses her clearly extensive knowledge of the City as it was in Restoration times. Her descriptions of the narrow streets, lined with crammed-in buildings, of the bridges and the river are very evocative, and her locations are very precisely detailed. Her eye for historical detail is faultless and while there is a fair amount of detail about the war with the Dutch and a number of Naval actions, we’re never bogged down in a history lesson at the expense of the story.  The scenes that deal with the Great Fire are fast-moving and exciting, and those that deal with its aftermath don’t shy away from just how devastating it was, and the profound effect it had on the City.

I really don’t know why Stella Riley’s books haven’t become “classics” in the genre, because her writing is so good. As far as I know, she only published a handful of titles, including A Splendid Defiance, which is set during the English Civil War and Black Madonna. I really hope that the re-emergence of The Marigold Chain means that her other novels will appear shortly, too – and if we’re incredibly lucky, perhaps she will even write some more novels.

**The Kindle edition is priced at £3.08 in the UK   / $4.60 in the US – a small price to pay for such a great read! **


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    • You’re very welcome 🙂 It’s always nice to share the love and in this case it’s very well-deserved. I really hope you enjoy the book.

    • Thanks! I just love this book. I haven’t been able to read it for years, so initially, I did wonder if my high opinion of it was coloured somewhat by nostalgia, but as I re-read, I realised that it wasn’t and that the book really IS that good. I hope you enjoy it, too.

  1. A big ‘thank you’ to everyone who has posted a comment here. The Parfit Knight is also now available from Amazon and I intend to load The Mesalliance on both of these sites in the next 2 or 3 weeks. After that, look out for A Splendid Defiance, The Black Madonna and Garland of Straw – in that order.
    Happy Reading!

    • Thank you so much – for dropping by AND making your books available again! I had copies of “The Marigold Chain” and “A Splendid Defiance” back in the 80s and loved them – sadly, they disappeared over the course of house moves, so having them back as ebooks has made me jump for joy.

      I’m very much looking forward to reading your other titles as and when.

  2. I love Stella Riley’s books and hunted them all down and bought copies of them years ago. I am overjoyed to see that they are coming out on Kindle and will be getting copies of them all on kindle to preserve my paper copies that are now deteriorating from too many reads. I hope that the missing titles will also be released, I would love to read them.

    • I only had The Marigold Chain and A Splendid Defiance im paperback back in the 80s, so I’m delighted that Stella Riley is now e-publishing her books. She says she intends to make all of her titles available as ebooks, which is great news!

  3. Wonderful to have these available as e-books. I’m lucky – I have all of Stella Riley’s published work in hard copy and re-read them frequently, but will still buy the kindle versions. I have always been SO sad that the Civil War series never got finished !

  4. I was so distressed whn I read this book as it is a blatant ripoff of Dorothy Dunnett’s sublime Lymond Chronicles (published 1961 to 1975). Although she has shifted the setting from the 16th century to the 17th, Riley takes great chunks of dialogue and plot directly from Dunnett. Without apology or acknowledgement. Very bad form.

    • I’m familiar with the Lymond books – and while I admit I can think of a couple of scenes which are similar, I think to call this a “rip-off” is rather strong.

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