The perilous tides and lethal quicksands of Morecambe Bay provide the dramatic backcloth to an outstanding new novel set in the closing years of King Charles II’s reign.
Moon in Leo, a vivid, occasionally mystical, sometimes humorous and often savagely realistic historical adventure grounded in detailed research and superb storytelling, is as fast flowing as the bay’s notorious tidal bore and as brooding as the fells that fringe the shoreline.
Author Kathleen Herbert is no stranger to the Furness peninsula of Cumbria – previous books including her Dark Age trilogy used the same fells and seascape – and her gift is to bring to life its people and its past.
But Herbert is also a scholar – in fact, a former Oxford student of the great JRR Tolkien – and her impressive grasp of the Restoration allows her to open up her story to the wider politics, tensions, terrors, land conflicts and religious ideologies that made these years such a fascinating period of history.
As Charles’s turbulent reign draws to an end and the Monmouth Rebellion gathers force, the days of the Stuart dynasty are numbered, the events of the Civil War are still a raw wound, old religious differences are rising to the surface and the pernicious ‘Popish plot’ is taking shape.
Britain is also teetering on the cusp of the Age of Enlightenment, entrenched beliefs and customs jostle uncomfortably with advances in science and technology and at Park Hall on the northern tip of Morecambe Bay in 1678, a naive teenage girl is about to be catapulted into a wave of treason and bigotry more dangerous than the incoming sea.
Rosamund Halistan hails from the kind of claustrophobic community that ‘knows who married whom before the Norman Conquest’.
When her twin brother Stephen returns after a three-year tour of Europe, her sheltered existence changes forever the moment an unseen enemy tries to shoot him as he crosses the sands.
Rosamund is no ordinary girl – bright, brave and determined, she has been raised by her father, a man steeped in alchemy and the occult – and she knows how to conjure spirits.
At a local house party, she meets two very different men - Simon Challis, an aloof fellow follower of the mystical Hermetic Creed, and the earthy Henry Ravensworth, an energetic, sexually attractive monarchist with a bawdy reputation.
One of these men will betray her and lead her into a nightmare that takes her from the dungeons of Lancaster Castle and imprisonment on the Cumberland fells through travels with gypsies and a peep show, terrifying mob violence and on to an extraordinary denouement on the sands of Morecambe Bay.
Herbert’s thrilling story has a gregarious gallery of fleshed-out characters – from archetypal rogues to cynical and dashing heroes – and presents to us the life of 17th century people in all its everyday reality. We join in their songs, see the clothes they wear, share the food they eat and learn about the hopes, fears and frustrations that feed their prejudices.
Moon in Leo is a stunning piece of work, both as a page-turning adventure novel and as an intelligent and informative historical exploration.
Don’t miss it.
Published on 15th April 2011

First American Review
Alchemists, gypsies, Puritans, sleep-walking women, clandestine Catholics, and necromancers...  what's not to love in Kathleen Herbert's Moon in Leo?

The opening sentence of this gutsy, fresh review tells you that this is a lively American voice- no fingertips-together, prissy, over-the-top-of-the-gold-rimmed-spectacles comments from Nan Hawthorne!

She goes on to say:

Seriously though, this novel combines a look at an intriguing time in history with compelling characters and thrilling intrigues.  The time and place is Restoration England.   The king, namely Charles II, is back on the throne, spending the nation's money on wine, women, and song, and those who were happy to see the tail end of Cromwell and his Roundheads are ready to find someone else to blame for national woes.  When a group of conspirators decides the unpopular and illegal Catholics would be a nice diversion for violence, a family with a long history of being oppressed for the occult beliefs is caught in the middle.

Rosamund is looking forward to the return of her brother Stephen, hoping they can now settle down in the mystical marriage required of great alchemy.  But Stephen doesn't want this any m ore, so Rosamund is drawn to another alchemist she meets, she believes accidentally, who appears to share her dreams, a certain Mr. Challis.  It is not long before she begins to suspect he has dreams far wilder and ambitious than her desire for peace on Earth, good will, well you know the drill.  Meantime poor Stephen is dragged off to gaol in Lancaster for treason.  Fortunately for him he has met and fallen in love with a Catholic woman, who gets her friends to spirit him out of his cell.  Rosamund, knowing she can only wait to see if the plan succeeds, goes off to Challis's chalet where she finds him ensconced with an odd lot of people who seem to have something cooking.  Challis has pull on her of a definite occult kind, and one of his earlier victims is wandering about the place in a trance that finally gets through to Rosamund's brain.  So she takes off, eluding Challis's searches, worldly and otherwise, only to run into a cad of a fellow she met once and didn't approve of but now needs his help.

I will be honest and admit I knew precious little of what was going on with the average English person during the Restoration.  I am afraid one demerit of historical novels is their tendency to focus on nobility too much of the time, giving the reader an unrealistic view of everyday life.  Rosamund and her family are hardly average, but they have enough distance from Court to give one a sense of what was really going on.  The paranoia about plots and insurgencies exacerbated by a king who was basically asking for it, was revealed in this novel while the paranormal romance is entertaining the reader.

I have not read all that many romances, but I think Moon in Leo has the requisite themes, the smart, spunky heroine who nonetheless needs rescuing, the model gallant fella who turns out to be sinister as a ll get out, exciting escapes, unforeseen death, exotic helpers, the rake who turns out to be Mr. Right, and all of it being wrapped up in a heritage of turning base metals into gold just adding spice to.. well.. spice.  It was a wonderful introduction into the genre for me.   It seems to me that the novel combines a nice little historical romance with some unexpected occult twists.  It sure worked for me.

Some short extracts from the Amazon reviews for Moon in Leo. Read the complete reviews here:

Despite the length of the book, I found I had difficulty in putting it down and on one night was still reading at 3am! The author had clearly done her research and has extensive knowledge of the area. 

Riveting from the first page: a subtle blend of scholarship and terror set in a carefully researched historical background...

Although the story starts slowly while the scene is set, it rapidly gathers pace and becomes a real page turner that you will not want to, or be able to, put down.... A sense of menace builds up and the reader is held in suspense until the several strands of the plot are finally untangled.