I've said it before, I'll say it again -- I prefer liking books, I like liking things. I do not enjoy giving anything other than recommendations -- but sometimes, I just can't do anything else. This is one of those times.
This is a historical fiction but the history is bad. Before we even get to the first chapter -- in an introductory note we're told "By the early 1500's," Europe was in a time called the Protestant Reformation. The traditional starting point for the Protestant Reformation was October 31, 1517 -- but things didn't really get moving for a few years. So "by" the early 1500's is not really accurate. The same paragraph says, "while across the ocean in North America witch-hunts were gaining traction." Now, I guess it's possible that some of the Spanish colonies or Native American tribes were conducting these hunts, but I'm pretty sure Barclay intends us to think of the Salem Witch Trials, which started more than a century after the events of this novel. We're not even to chapter 1 and we've got a paragraph with two glaring historical flubs -- it'd be difficult (but not impossible) to recover from this. Barclay doesn't.
With historical fiction, you have to decide on the character's vocabulary -- will you attempt to get it chronologically-appropriate, or will you take some liberties and use contemporary language and ask your readers to suspend disbelief to allow for everyone's ease? Most take the latter, and most audiences play along. It is difficult to get period-dialogue correct if you're not immersed in it, and many readers find it difficult or boring to read. While it's understandable to use contemporary phrasing, I'm not sure I'm willing to buy 16th century people talking about "teenage angst." Nor should we get people drinking coffee, wearing high heels (at least not among the peasant class), or making references to zippers. These kind of anachronisms are just lazy, sloppy -- and it takes the reader out of the moment.
If you're going to set something during the 3rd generation of the Reformation, and make the conflict between Lutherans, the Reformed and Roman Catholics (and the state powers that use those groups to mask their machinations) core plot points -- you should, get the theology right. Which is just the same point as above, I realize -- but man . . . when it's such a major component of the book, you owe it to your readers to put in the effort. (also, Barclay suggested I'd like the book as a "theology nerd," so I should be expected to look at it as one). We shouldn't have Roman Catholic priests consulting German translations of the New Testament, nor should we have Lutheran ministers conducting baptism by immersion -- particularly not of someone already baptized. Martin Luther, like all the Protestant Reformers, had very harsh things to say about that practice. In general, every religious sentiment (at least those expressed by the devout) was in conflict with the point of view it was supposed to be espousing -- most of them not sounding like 16th Century Lutheran, Reformed or Roman Catholic believers but some sort of vague 21st Century theism.
This book is also a mystery. As such, um, it wasn't really a success. There wasn't real effort put into finding answers, just finding good candidates to pin something on. At least officially -- those who actually looked for answers were stopped by one way or another. If we were talking about a novel about 16th Century politics and the ways they impacted lives of individuals -- including crime victims and survivors -- this might have worked.
I'm just piling on now, and I really don't want to do that. So, I'll ignore the grammatical errors, typos, a handful of words that basically demand Inigo Montoya to tap the author on the shoulder to say " I do not think it means what you think it means." Nor will I get into the lazy plots revolving around Roman Catholic clergy sexually molestation or father forcing a daughter to marry a horrible person for his own financial gain.
Barclay can probably produce a decent book -- there were some good moments in this book, but not enough of them. This is just not worth the time and trouble.
Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post -- I do appreciate it, even if the book didn't work for me.