Having found that the two Ann Turnbull novels about Friends Will and Susanna are to be followed by a third, completing a trilogy, I felt the need to go back to the first two. They are the kinds of books you don’t forget. You might not remember the details, but the story stays with you.
What makes No Shame, No Fear and Forged in the Fire stand out so is the beautiful love story. But also the background to what today might be seen as a ‘mild form’ of religion, but which in the 17th century was an abomination which the authorities needed to stamp out.
That people as peaceful and normal as Quakers are should be seen as a threat, is something we need to remember today, when there are plenty of other goups of people which some of us fear enough to want to persecute. It’s as with many other things; if you exchange a word or a name for another, you suddenly see quite how wrong and unnecessary any such behaviour is. Hopefully, one day we’ll all have blended in.
No Shame, No Fear introduces us to Will and Susanna and their love for each other. Set in the Shropshire countryside, and in a small town in 1662, Susanna’s family are Friends, whereas Will’s father is a wealthy authority figure who opposes the illegal Friends. And when Will finds himself drawn to them it leads to their estrangement.
This is another story featuring strong women in history. Susanna goes to work for Mary, a professional woman and Friend, where she learns to read and write, and eventually to work in Mary’s printer’s workshop. Meanwhile, Friends are being thrown in jail for their beliefs, and Will and Susanna work together to make sure the children left behind are safe. And all this time Will’s father tries to extricate his son from what he sees as the arms of a calculating whore.
Three years later in Forged in the Fire Will is living and working in London, expecting Susanna to join him as soon as she is free from her apprenticeship with Mary. And that’s when the plague breaks out. When Susanna hears nothing for a long time, she sets off to London to find Will.
Things are not easy for them to begin with, and once they settle it’s time for the fire of London. The accounts of both the plague and of the fire are scary. It’s easy to shrug them off as awful things that happened a long time ago, but when your Friends are involved it feels different.
I can see the story’s hook, now that I know there is a third book on the way. Will’s and Susanna’s friends moved to America a few years earlier, and it’s what people did when they were persecuted for their faith or couldn’t make a living where they were. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
(A brief thought on book covers. The new trilogy will have new and matching covers. The two original covers were based on ‘real’ art, making them feel part of the story. The new ones look like all new book covers do. Are we scared of old things?)