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Summary

Bloomsbury presents A Net for Small Fishes by Lucy Jago, read by Sarah Durham.

Based on the true scandal that rocked the court of James I, A Net for Small Fishes is the most gripping novel you'll find this year: an exhilarating dive into the pitch-dark waters of the Jacobean court.

Frances Howard has beauty and a powerful family - and is the most unhappy creature in the world.

Anne Turner has wit and talent - but no stage on which to display them. Little stands between her and the abyss of destitution.

When these two very different women meet in the strangest of circumstances, a powerful friendship is sparked. Frankie sweeps Anne into a world of splendour that exceeds all she imagined: a Court whose foreign king is a stranger to his own subjects; where ancient families fight for power, and where the sovereign’s favourite may rise and rise - so long as he remains in favour.

With the marriage of their talents, Anne and Frankie enter this extravagant, savage hunting ground, seeking a little happiness for themselves. But as they gain notice, they also gain enemies; what began as a search for love and safety leads to desperate acts that could cost them everything.

©2021 Lucy Jago (P)2021 Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

Critic reviews

"The Thelma and Louise of the 17th century." (Lawrence Norfolk)

"Sumptuous.... If you’re feeling bereft after finishing The Mirror and the Light, let Jago transport you back to the Jacobean court." (Telegraph)

"Dazzling." (Sunday Independent)

What listeners say about A Net for Small Fishes

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"The great ones swim away"

I really enjoyed this remarkable, pacey & vivid recreation of the Jacobean scandal which racked James 1's royal court in the early seventeenth century which involved the slow death from poison of the imprisoned Sir Thomas Overbury, and the savage punishments meted out in the trial of 1615 to the 'small fish' enmeshed in the affair.
Frances Howard Countess of Essex and her dresser (and what fabulous garments are detailed!), doctor's widow and mother of six Anne Turner, enjoy an unusually close bond, so close that Anne prepares potions for her 'Franky' who longs for a child to give to her impotent and cruel young husband, the 3rd Earl of Essex.
If Anne and her Franky had dandled merely with love potions, Anne would have lived to be with her beloved children. But when Franky starts an affair with Robert Carr, (Gentleman of the Bedchamber and in 1613 Earl of Sussex), James's closest favourite, their close friendship becomes dangerous. Frances wants her marriage to Essex annulled so that she can marry Carr. Sir Thomas Overbury stands in the way. Carr's passionate 'lover', Overbury is set against the annullment. Through political machinations orchestrated by Carr, James imprisons Overbury in the Tower where he soon dies, apparently poisoned. Anne is one of those on trial for her life accused of providing the poison.
Jago's novel sweeps through all these years, to the trials in 1615 and the hanging of the 'small fishes', and finally to the survival of the 'great ones who swam away', the finally lavishly married Frances and Carr. It's a fantastic achievement in staying faithful to the facts whilst creating complex depths of feelings and a palpable world of the time from the scurrilous plottings, insecurity, duplicity, corruption, rivalry and dangers of the royal court, to the details of widowed Anne's life with her skills in saffron dyes and her powerlessness as she's abandoned by the father of her six children (women's lives are hobbled and precarious). Throughout the book there are many glimpses of other everyday lives: the child prostitute Anne passes on the street who will be dead before she's 15; the horrific public hangings; the bear baiting; the foul odours; the role of potions and apothecaries; the constant fears that children will die; and the obscene disparity between wealth and penury (Carr spends more on a pair of gloves than a maid earns in a year).
The fabric of the time which Jago weaves so well is filled with authentic-sounding dialogue, fine similes and small details - the cobbles covered with winter slime; Frances leaning on Carr 'like a hawk in the wind'.
'A Net for Small Fishes' is the very best historical fiction beautifully read.

18 people found this helpful

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Well read and gripping

Honestly the narrator’s performance of this book is INCREDIBLE. It’s an amazing story that isn’t usually my thing at all but after a couple of chapters I couldn’t stop listening. Really recommend even if you don’t usually like historical fiction

8 people found this helpful

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Brilliant from start to finish

Omg this is a book I shall be recommending. I was transported x. Enjoyed every fine detail if life at Court. The intrigue and hypocrisy.

8 people found this helpful

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A little rambling

An enjoyable evocation of the Jacobean court and its politics, but in some places the writer's research shows a little to clearly, for instance during a lengthy conversation about the legal niceties of annulling a marriage. Although there were many opportunities for suspense and tension, I never felt that the supposed deep affection between the two main characters was quite believable, and the narrative, though scholarly and detailed, fell a little short for me.

7 people found this helpful

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Factual and Informative

I found it so evocative of 17th century London. Wonderful narrator for a top class novel.

5 people found this helpful

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Easy to listen to

This was more of a three and a half stars book. I didn’t particularly like either of the main characters. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped.

4 people found this helpful

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Knowing what happens does limit suspense

I enjoyed the vivid description of Ann Turner's life and encounters but as the story progresses I lost interest as I knew what would happen.
Very well read!

3 people found this helpful

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A fabulous insight into the court of King James I.

I quickly became hooked on this story (based on real characters and real events) of intrigue, scandal, religious bigotry, witchcraft and shenanigans in the Jacobean court. Frances Howard is a young, beautiful aristocrat who is unhappily married to the Earl of Essex. Her family see the marriage as a vehicle to success in the court of the new Stuart King but Frances has other ideas. Essex is impotent, probably homosexual and cruel to Frances who is desperate to be rid of him. When she meets Mistress Anne Turner, a talented seamstress who is married to Essex’s doctor, a friendship is formed which will lead to dramatic and disastrous consequences. Anne is introduced to court life and the more attached to Frances she feels the more reckless her actions become.
Frances falls in love with the King’s favourite, Robert Carr, and hatches a plan to annul her marriage to Essex and marry Carr. Anne has some rudimentary healing knowledge and friends in the medical world. When Carr’s friend Overbury interferes in Frances’ romance she embroils Anne in a plan to ‘remove’ Overbury from Carr’s circle and nullify his influence. Although Overbury dies and Frances eventually succeeds in marrying Carr, the circumstances of Overbury’s death soon become the subject of investigation and Anne finds herself embroiled in a judicial case which eventually accuses her of witchcraft. As the investigation progresses Anne’s hope of rescue by Frances and Carr’s influence recedes, She is told that the King’s justice is ‘a net for small fishes’ and she realises that she is probably doomed.
A wonderful story, full of interesting historical detail, lively characters and a great plot. The narration was excellent.

3 people found this helpful

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Fantastic historical drama

Brilliantly narrated drama, excellent writing - spare yet detailed, gripping suspenseful, moving, transports you.

2 people found this helpful

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Brilliant

One of the best books of historical fiction I have had the pleasure of listening to. The description was so atmospheric, it really brought the story to life.

2 people found this helpful