A short blog this week, but one that marks a big event – The Lion of Midnight, fourth of the ‘Journals of Matthew Quinton’, is due to be published in the UK on 23 April! You can read the first chapter on my website.
Lion marks a bit of a departure from the previous books in the series, both in its setting and its subject matter. Most of the action takes place in Sweden, or the waters off the Atlantic coast of Sweden, during the early months of 1666. The second Anglo-Dutch war war is at a critical stage – France has declared war on the side of the Dutch, the combined kingdom of Denmark-Norway is about to do so. Meanwhile, a fleet of mast ships lies ice-bound in Gothenburg harbour, waiting for a thaw and an escort so it can bring back its vital cargo; for without fresh supplies of masts, the British fleet’s ability to continue the war will be finite. But what Matthew Quinton expects to be a straightforward piece of convoy escort duty becomes something much darker. What is the true mission of his mysterious passenger, Lord Conisbrough? Why does Matthew become involved in a shadowy power struggle within the Swedish government? Above all, how will he respond to the presence in Gothenburg of one of the most notorious of the regicides, the men who signed the death warrant of King Charles I? As he encounters enemies old and new, together with some unexpected allies, Matthew struggles to carry out his duty while confronting some powerful demons from his and his family’s past.
So why this particular setting? For one thing, I’d long been interested in Sweden’s ‘Golden Age’, from roughly 1610 to 1721, when the country was one of the greatest powers in Europe. I actually taught it to A-level students for many years – an eccentric choice, some might say, but most of them loved it, given the fascinating personalities and themes they were dealing with (not to mention the fact that the questions in the final exam were invariably predictable – either ‘why did Sweden rise?’ or ‘why did it decline?’ – and led to a pretty high percentage of each cohort achieving excellent grades).
As I write in the historical note to The Lion of Midnight,
The campaigns of her warrior king Gustavus II Adolphus, der Löwe von Mitternacht to his German enemies, won her vast new territories, despite her tiny population and limited natural resources. Although Gustavus’s intervention in the Thirty Years War was ended abruptly by his death during the battle of Lutzen in 1632, his generals continued to win triumph after triumph in the name of his daughter Christina, who succeeded to the throne at the age of five, and later under her warrior cousin…
Large tracts of territory in Scandinavia and northern Germany were conquered, the new city of Gothenburg was established as a ‘window to the west’, and the country also built up a formidable navy. I’d been to Stockholm several times to see the remarkable Vasa, but to research Lion, in February 2011 I spent a week in Kalmar and Gothenburg (aka Göteborg). The former houses the astonishing range of exhibits recovered from the wreck of the Kronan, which sank in 1676; at the time, she was one of the largest warships in the world, the brainchild of the English shipwright Francis Sheldon. I was also really impressed by the museums in Gothenburg, notably the Maritime Museum and the City Museum; the latter has a vast model of the city as it was at pretty much exactly the time I’ve written about in Lion!
So I hope readers will enjoy The Lion of Midnight, which explores a relatively little known aspect of naval history, visits a fascinating foreign land at the height of its short-lived greatness, and sees the hero face challenges very different to any he has encountered before.
When this post goes live, I’ll actually be hacking my way down the M5 to Devon for a few days of research fieldwork connected to the next Quinton book and some ongoing non-fiction projects. (Those of you who know the subject of ‘Quinton 5’ from my previous posts and the website might be wondering why on earth a story focusing on the Four Days Battle of 1666 needs fieldwork in Devon, of all places. Watch this space, or better still, read the book in about a year’s time!) So next week, I hope to be blogging about some of the places I’ll have been to.