Did someone say coffee and book in the same sentence? Yes, that’s nothing new to me, I know. Pretty much sums up part of every day for me. However, hearing about a historical book that features the coffee trade, that’s newer and even better! I couldn’t wait to read Piers Alexander’s The Bitter Trade, especially since it was set in the 1600s during a time of much political and religious upheaval in England. As well, it’s set during the time when the Dutch threaten to overthrow the English Monarchy of James II.
Calumny Spinks is a unique, street urchin type of character that takes to the late 17th Century London streets and sets his sights on becoming a coffee racketeer, as during this time, coffee was very popular. Since times were tough and unstable, commodities were fought over like life’s blood. Piers’s novel reminded me a bit of reading some of my favorite Charles Dickens novels, mostly in terms of setting, feel, period details, and original, yet lovable, characters! His writing style was even similar to 17th Century London authors, as he wrote set into the time of course, but as well there was still an ease to the writing and reading and would be understandable to all readers.
I could tell that Piers had completed an enormous amount of research before and/or during his writing of The Bitter Trade and is quite knowledgeable about this time period of British history. Parts of this time period, and the Glorious Revolution, seem to not have a large amount written and published in regards to it. Such is the case of William of Orange and his plans for his Dutch overthrow of the England’s crown, too–I enjoy reading books of this time period, but we need more books! The time period’s great amount of mayhem on land and on sea seem a second thought or are even referred to as calm, though so many pivotal moves in regards to position of power, trade, and international relations were made. As well, the end of the 1600’s in London was seeped in paranoia, trade restraint, guild/labor issues, and class dissension, which created Piers’ backdrop within the new coffee trade of which Calumny became involved. This created the suspenseful, romping, conspiratorial plot within the book that made the reading so exciting and propelled me through the pages.
How does the coffee fit in? In 17th Century London, coffee houses were springing up all over (yes, they’ve been around since then. The British didn’t only drink tea!!) and the craft guilds were organizing. People’s way of life was changing. Commoners wanted more rights, and trade was very important; titles and family wealth of Britain’s elite that created such a boundary among classes began to be dissolved or disregarded, causing more upheaval.
Piers crafts attention to women’s issues of the time (wife auctions to divorce your wife, rape, etc.) in the book and this should also be noted. He doesn’t leave women characters of the book in the background, but brings them to the forefront, showcasing some that even dressed up like men, or acted like men, in order to get around the limitations placed on females. I adored the strong female characters he created to give women a voice.
Speaking of characters, he has fully-defined, quirky, and interesting characters overall that are the layers to his story. I enjoyed reading the nuances of each one, but especially Calumny. I would be thrilled if he continued Calumny’s story. It’s purely historical fiction based on a factual time period, but he admits he takes some liberties to create his protagonist’s story, and in his novel, it works.
I highly recommend The Bitter Trade for an entertaining, suspenseful novel that brings some sides of the Glorious Revolution to fuller light. You’ll enjoy a steaming mug of hot coffee with sugar while reading this and be transported back to London through the amazing details and descriptions that Piers accomplishes within his writing.
The Bitter Trade Information, Synopsis~
The Bitter Trade won the PEN Factor at The Literary Consultancy’s Writing In A Digital Age Conference. Jury Chair Rebecca Swift (Author, Poetic Lives: Dickinson) said: “The Pen Factor jury selected The Bitter Trade based on the quality of writing, the engaging plot, and the rich and unusual historical context. Dazzling and playful!”
Publication Date: April 7, 2014
Formats: eBook, Paperback; 448p
Genre: Historical Adventure/Thriller
In 1688, torn by rebellions, England lives under the threat of a Dutch invasion. Redheaded Calumny Spinks is the lowliest man in an Essex backwater: half-French and still unapprenticed at seventeen, yet he dreams of wealth and title.
When his father’s violent past resurfaces, Calumny’s desperation leads him to flee to London and become a coffee racketeer. He has just three months to pay off a blackmailer and save his father’s life – but his ambition and talent for mimicry pull him into a conspiracy against the King himself. Cal’s journey takes him from the tough life of Huguenot silk weavers to the vicious intrigues at Court. As the illicit trader Benjamin de Corvis and his controlling daughter Emilia pull him into their plots, and his lover Violet Fintry is threatened by impending war, Cal is forced to choose between his conscience and his dream of becoming Mister Calumny Spinks.
Praise for The Bitter Trade~
“A fantastic debut novel” – Robert Elms, BBC Radio London
“The ambitious, cheeky Calumny Spinks is a great guide through the sensory overload of 17th century London, in an adventure that combines unexpected insights with just the right amount of rollicking ribaldry. I hope it’s the opener to a series.” – Christopher Fowler, author of the Bryant and May novels
“This debut novel is a gripping evocation of late seventeenth century London, rich in persuasive dialect and period detail and with a bold protagonist. An unusual thriller that just keeps you wanting to know more about the many facets of this story. You’ll never view your coffee in quite the same way again.” – Daniel Pembrey, bestselling author of The Candidate
“A very exciting and superbly researched novel” – Mel Ulm, The Reading Life
Buy the Book~
Author Piers Alexander, Biography~
Piers Alexander is an author and serial entrepreneur. After a successful career as CEO of media and events companies, he became a Co-Founder and Chairman of three start-up businesses. In 2013 he was awarded the PEN Factor Prize for The Bitter Trade. He is currently working on the sequel, Scatterwood, set in Jamaica in 1692.
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