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The Dangerous Kingdom of Love

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From before the first page when I read the Dramatis Personae and saw King James I & IV described as 'a sodomite and a failed intellectual' followed further on by William Shakespeare as simply 'another playwright' I knew this book was going to be one for me. Blackmore uses language that is honest and crass but felt completely appropriate to the story. An historical tale told in a modern way. 

Narrated by Sir Francis Bacon who speaks to us directly and paints himself repeatedly as an outsider in the court of King James. He is 'the cleverest man in Britain' and has many enemies plotting his downfall while Bacon himself plots to elevate his own position. He presents himself as morally superior to his aristocratic 'superiors' while simultaneously working with the queen to replace King James lover Robert Carr with one of their own - George Villiers - in order to have the king's inner ear. However trouble begins when Bacon and Villiers begin a relationship themselves and Bacon despite his better judgment falls for the boy. 

The story is one of power and love. Both the power of love and the love of power and how either can elevate and corrupt.
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Set in the 1600's this book tells the story of Francis Bacon and although it wasn't anything like I was expecting I did enjoy it to a degree. There seemed to be a lot of characters, some familiar names like Shakespeare. There was a lot of crudeness and swearing but if you can get past all that it is quite a fun read. The exploits he gets up to are really quite funny and a bit silly. If I can liken it to something similar it would be the TV show Blackadder.
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Sir Francis Bacon is a lawyer at the court of James I, having served under Elizabeth I and he does so, if not willingly, at least, his position is what he wants, even if his king falls short. But he accrues enemies as people with power who won't do as they are told do, and Bacon attracts powerful enemies at court, a legacy from a report he wrote that lead to the demise of the Earl of Essex. Now he is being persecuted by Robert Carr, the king's lover, and he joins forces with the queen to find a way to bring Carr down, and, in so doing, allow Bacon to attract more power at court. 

And the great plan? To replace Carr with a creature of their own choosing in the king's bed. Bacon uses his network of spies to find a suitable candidate but stumbles across George Villiers, a twenty year old lad fro Leicestershire who is perfect - in every way. Bacon himself prefers a more rugged man to pleasure himself with, so when he realises he is attracted to the pretty strawberry blond boy, it can only lead to trouble.

The Dangerous Kingdom of Love is written as a memoir, with Sir Francis Bacon addressing his readers directly, the fourth wall being breached in literature. He is open about himself, his thoughts, how he views the world, and his opinions and feelings about everything. He tells us his story and we are, naturally, entirely sympathetic to him. And so, when his own eyes are opened to his own behaviour, when we learn at the same time as he does that his world can be viewed very differently, we feel the shock with him and we look back over the rest of the novel and wonder at everything he has said and judge him afresh.

This is the second of Neil Blackmore's novels I've read and so I'm expecting the profanities, the use of the F word as a verb and not a noun, the open homosexuality described. Some readers won't be, and I suggest that, if you are sensitive, don't read it. If you are OK with the material, you will read a love story that holds true for all relationships, regardless of those involved. 

If there were a criticism, it is that the ending is rushed. We go almost day by day through Bacon's life through the main body of the novel, then, close to the end, we hurtle through several years in the space of a couple of pages where Bacon narrates the story. If feels as if he's heading to the conclusion, but he isn't, and that is a bit annoying as it grates against the detail of the rest of the novel.

At worst, this is a romp through the reign of James I; at best it is a multi-layered study of love which highlights, as the title promises, the dangers of falling in love.
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I sat down to read this in the afternoon and looked up a few hours later to find I’d finished it. That’s the mark of a good book. It took me a moment to get into the story because I couldn’t easily follow the narration but once I could (either because I adjusted or the narration smoothed out), I was so immersed in Francis Bacon’s mind that his decisions felt rational to me — until the end when he was confronted about those decisions. 

I enjoyed how he broke the fourth wall to tell us directly what he thought. Some of those moments made me laugh out loud. My heart ached for him as he faced the reality of a life without love as a gay man (though of course that wasn’t the term used) in the 1600s. I also realized I clearly haven’t read enough historical fiction from the post-Elizabeth years because I was shocked to learn about King James’ relationship with men. 

The ending felt a bit rushed but it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the story or my surprise at how easily I “agreed” with Francis Bacon’s thinking until the glaringly obvious was (finally) pointed out.
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Judging on this and his previous novel (the intoxicating Mr Lavelle), Neil Blackmore has the sexually fluid historical romp market sewn up. Quite a specialist market I grant you…

This novel, told from the perspective of Francis Bacon with all the potential for a personal view of proceedings that implies, is an immersive experience, diving into court intrigue, the experience of an outsider in courts and the lies and secrecy that a gay man would need at that time (despite the King’s public favourites!). The use of commoners by the rich and powerful is a recurring theme, as well as the Potential for elevation (and demotion… to execution).

The nature of the narrative is such that the language is rather robust at times - that might pit people off. I’d urge anyone concerned to give it a  go regardless- this is historical fiction at its finest.
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I ended up enjoying this much more than I thought I would! I was drawn in by the promise of a gay historical fiction, which I've never seen before (I'm sure they exist, but historical romance isn't usually my jam, so I don't know of any), and I didn't leave disappointed. This was crude but funny, emotional, and surprising in its complexity and humanity.
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From the first paragraph, I knew this book would be a good one. I immersed myself into the book from the first chapter and I cannot say enough good things about this book! Honestly amazing! The writing is incredible and the plot is just one to die for. I am absolutely obsessed with this book. My favorite part would have to be the character development throughout the book. Character development is something I look forward to and this book did not disappoint.
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Francis Bacon, known as the cleverest man in England, finds himself in a threatening position. King James I is unpredictable and is being influenced by his lover Robert Carr, who is an enemy of Francis. Now, Francis needs to concoct a new plan, so he doesn’t end up at the Tower.

Francis’ voice is a bit of an arrogant with foul language, but if you can get passed that, he is good at grasping your attention and he sharply relates the story. He vows to stay away from love since his kind of love is punishable, despite the king flaunting it in everyone’s face. For the rest, this kind of love is too dangerous and can cost your life.

Francis’ world is full of lies and schemes and he is good at pulling whoever he needs to into his world to fulfill his plan. His story is interesting.

As for those who are familiar with this piece of history, and as it is with any kind of story that was told before you need to bring some originality and edge to make something known being interesting again. And the author certainly achieves that. It is very original and sharp. The only problem I have is the vulgarity, which I personally do not like and because of that I couldn’t bring myself to rate it as 5 stars.
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Although the stories at the heart of the book (Robert Carr and Frances Howard: see the recent 'A Net for Small Fishes', and that of George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham (the Buckingham from 'The Three Musketeers' who is in love with Anne of Austria) have been told before and, I would guess, are fairly well known, what this book brings to the party is linking them through the rambunctious voice of Francis Bacon. 

For me, it's Bacon's narration that makes the book: he's crude and coarse, he's clever and vain, he's aware that he's surrounded by enemies, and he's on a mission to plot his way to the top while taking down his detractors, especially the Howard family.  Along the way, he has more than an eye on our present with sneaking asides about how lying and deceit are no longer flaws in public servants and Westminster rulers, on how greed and ambition rule and the wealthy continue to prop up their ascendency; an especially funny diatribe on how a nascent system of 'medicines everywhere, in every town, in every village, ready to be used at any moment, a national service' is bound to be stymied by questions of 'where was the money for such a scheme?' King James might have just spent a fortune from the public purse on jewels for his favourites but 'not a single Member of Parliament (save perhaps me) was going to pay to stop injured peasants dying of blood poisoning'. 

So this is very much historical fiction with a postmodern outlook: deliberate anachronisms in diction, and social commentary combine with a slanted retelling of history (in reality, the puritanical James was never this shameless and there are still scholarly debates on whether he actually slept with any of his male favourites). I especially like that this reclaims the Stuart courtly romp from all the ultra-feminised tellings that make it a place where women's subjectivity rules with stories of female friendship, forced marriages, lush love affairs and lots and lots of glossy clothing descriptions. This is entertaining, fun and necessarily bawdy, but also has a more heartfelt element that emerges, particularly near the end.
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I really enjoyed ‘The Dangerous Kingdom of Love’ by Neil Blackmore. Like his previous novel it was a refreshing style of writing that told a period tale in a very modern way.  I laughed out loud in many places yet I also felt I learnt about a man I knew little about.
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Thanks for the ARC! This is a great historical novel. Blackmore gave voice to real people from history and he has a writing style that is really engaging. Loved the language and the explicitness... really gave me a good feel of being in the past. 

Some of the book is really sad... living in a time when a person wasn't able to be out and love who they loved. Sad but accurate... it happened.

Much better than I expected. If you like historical fiction at all, check this out!
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Wow I was drawn in from the first page.  This book was thrilling to read - I haven't been this hooked by a historical novel for ages. It was more explicit than I expected and doesn't shy away from foul language. It is however accurate, shocking, scandalous, it's brilliant! Better than I was expecting!
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Francis Bacon, currently on the outs with King James, begins a series of plots to get back into his graces. But these plots have consequences.
(I was given this book as a ARC or Advanced Reader Copy given through NetGalley as an audiobook for an honest Review. All of these thoughts are mine and at no point was I pressured or swayed in my opinion)

This book comes out 15 Jul 2021 

This is a adult, LGBTQ+, Historical fiction

Francis Bacon wants power
But Carr, lover and current favorite of King james is in the way. Worst he is plotting to get Bacon out of the way.

But Bacon won’t just take this lying down. He will live to plot another day. He just has to find the right way to go about this. Just a little time and he’ll have his own plot to get what he wants.

And he might have found the perfect person to use to get his way
But the person that he set up to remove Carr? He might turn out to be Bacon’s own downfall if he doesn’t watch his step.

And the kingdom of love is a dangerous. And it can lead to anyone’s downfall. But Bacon refuses to let something like love make him fall. He refuses to fall.

This was a all around 5/5 for me.
This book was written in a way that kept me hooked and made for an enjoyable read. I could not put this book down, needing to know how the plotting of the characters where going to go.

Even knowing how history plays out doesn’t change this.

The Characters were enjoyable to follow
Neil Blackmore’s writing of the characters made me stick around. Every character was fun to follow. None of the characters were boring to be in a scene with.

Even the villains were entertaining to read. And Bacon, our POV characters, thoughts and inner monolog about the characters around them made for good entertainment.

But the plot what was what made me read this in one sitting
I could not put this book down.

All the schemes that where running were interesting and made me want to stick around to find out how they were going to end. Who was going to come out on top

And when one scheme wrapped up, another one just as interesting took its place. I was hooked to the very end.

Speaking of the ending.
The ending broke me. This is a historical fiction with real life characters, so you can guess how things play out.

But even with that in mind Neil Blackmore shifted things enough that things didn’t play out exactly how history does. And when it does go the way that it does in history, how we get to those events where interesting and changed at places.

And so the ending broke me. But it wasn’t just because of how history plays out.

Toward the very end a revelation comes out that shook me to the core. Now some people might be able to have seen this. And might have taken this revelation in from the very start of things. But I didn’t, and it made me take everything in, in a different way.

This will make any re-read a new experience if you didn’t get the revelation (Like I did) making this a book that you can take in more than once.

So please give this book a change if any of this is your thing.

Because I definitely will be coming back to this book an some point.
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Gosh, I found this book incredibly sad. Not sure what I expected from historical fiction about a man loving another man during the reign of the Stewards, but this wrecked me. 

This is a story about Francis Bacon told by Francis Bacon. King James is already on the throne by the time we meet Francis, and he is already known as one of the smartest men in all of England. Quite quickly, we see Francis start plotting in order to secure his place at court and out of The Tower, 

I found Francis to be quite a likeable  character. He was funny, quite sarcastic, and quite naïve when it came to feelings of love. As characteristically arrogant as he was, when it came to feelings of love, he was quite dumb. 

I usually go for historical fiction novels set during the Tudor reign therefore I did not know much about King James nor Francis Bacon. It was quite refreshing to read a piece of work set during King James’s reign that did not have anything to do with the Gunpowder Plot nor the killing of witches. I enjoyed having a glance at this time in history through Francis’s experience. Though, as I have already said, it was sad. 

It can still be difficult to read about men not being able to openly love other men whilst living in a time when it is generally accepted. It is good to go back to see how far we have come but I do wish that we could go back to all of the Francis Bacon’s of the time and tell them that their way of love is generally celebrated. 

What I also liked about this book was the question at the end. Was Francis a bad man? He was a man playing the game at court but when it came to Villiers, was he immoral? I wish they could have lived as the old married couple, but I could not help but feel that Villiers version of the truth did stand. It makes you think about who narrates the history of these people and what their truth is. Life at court muddied the water when it came to morality, friendship and love. 

Overall, I felt tremendous sadness for Francis.  I will be reading more of Neil Blackmore’s books after reading this.
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Neil Blackmore has a way with words, enchanting his readers to read more and more. I simply couldn't put the book down once I started reading it. The story has several layers and the narrative is quite nice. Blackmore uses profanity, and there are references to sex, so these things may turn off some readers. However, there are complex themes that make this book a solid read and shouldn't be defined by the aforementioned. Overall, I would recommend this book
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What a magnificent and malevolent Jacobean tapestry! The royal court of the first Stuart, a teeming world of petty jealousies, venomous intrigues, back-stabbing courtiers and muderous intents. A beautiful novel centered around Francis Bacon's quest to survive the treacherous waters surrounding the throne of a moronic ruler, and his fiendish determination to destroy his enemies by grooming & preparing a young and innocent George Villiers to become the king all powerful new male lover. Elegantly written & blessed with a cast of very colorful and unforgettable characters, this delightful & often humorous historical romp is also a captivating and engrossing portrait of the English homosexual world and underworld at the beginning of the 17th century! A fabulous fictional journey that deserves to be enjoyed without moderation!

Many thanks to Netgalley and Random/Hutchinson for this marvellous ARC
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I requested this b9ok purely based on the synopsis and I was expecting a fairly heavy b0ok - how wrong I was? This was one of my most surprising reads of the year and I loved every moment.
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This book was a surprise for many reasons, the first is that i did not when the author said that it was base of real people, so  imagine my surprise when I saw the title of Bacon's next book "New Atlantis" in that moment a lightbulb went on in my head. 

I really liked the story, Bacon is a funny, intelligent, haricot character, but above all human.
Throughout the book we were able to see his way of acting and thinking, how he interacted with the other characters, somehow you become fond of him and at the end of the book you realize that he is more human than you thought and that each story has two sides ( or more)
The author has a way of writing that, at least for me, connects with the main character.
I loved the ending, I liked Villers and each character, especially the last chapter, was ... wow. I really liked it a lot.

Whether this has happened in this way, in another or everything is simply an invention, I think that in the end we know that indeed Fracis Bacon did change the world. 

Thanks to Netgally for the copy!
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In the English court of 1613, there are two paths to success: noble blood or a pretty face. Francis Bacon has neither, so he’s had to resort to bribing the King’s loathsome little favourite Robert Carr, in order to secure an appointment as Attorney General. This new job offers some protection from Bacon’s phalanx of noble enemies, who’d love nothing more than to see him fall from grace, but almost immediately he learns of a worrying development at court. Robert Carr is due to marry the daughter of the Earl of Suffolk, one of Bacon’s nemeses, and Bacon knows perfectly well that his days are numbered unless he can come up with a way to break their stranglehold over the King. Ideally, he’d dislodge the brattish Carr by finding a beautiful, amusing and irresistible boy to offer up as a new potential favourite for the King. When Bacon’s path happens to cross that of the ravishing George Villiers, he seizes the opportunity, without stopping to think of the challenges that lie ahead: the task of playing Pygmalion and the difficulties that might arise when his creation gains power of his own. Giving centre stage to one of the period’s most fascinating characters, Neil Blackmore’s novel of sexual ambition in Jacobean England achieves the tricky feat of being both historically convincing and enormously fun.

Francis Bacon once thought that he’d make his name as a writer. His youthful works were hailed with rapture across Europe, but in recent years, rather like that poor old hack Shakespeare, he hasn’t managed to produce anything quite as good. He’s tinkering with a few things on the side, including a treatise in which he hopes to debunk the pernicious Aristotle and encourage a more empirical approach to scientific enquiry, but progress is slow. Besides, he’s been busy with life at court, a life which largely involves him battering against the impenetrable exterior of this ‘world of diamond-hard lineages‘, whose fortunate scions sit inside and sneer at him. Chief among them are the Howards, the vast kinship network dominated by Suffolk and allied with Bacon’s other devoted enemy, the Earl of Southampton. Bacon knows that he’s regarded as a jumped-up functionary, even though his own father was a valued servant to the old Queen Elizabeth, but he fears that it goes deeper than that. The court may rotate around a king who openly takes a young man to his bed but, crucially, James I’s relationship with Robert Carr (and any other favourites) is couched in familial terms. He is Carr’s ‘Daddy’; Carr is his beloved ‘son’. It offers a smokescreen of respectable affection that’s just thick enough for everyone to pretend complete ignorance of what’s actually happening or, if absolutely necessary, to acknowledge it as some kind of ideal Platonic partnering. But, crucially, it also allows the courtiers to maintain their loathing for anyone who shares James’s predilections but doesn’t have the power and status to brazen it out.

Here lies Bacon’s problem. Like James, he finds sexual comfort in the arms of other men, but he has no crown to protect him. Instead, indignant and lonely, he lives in constant fear of exposure, forced to slake his desires in the dark places of the night, where a willing partner can all too swiftly turn into a violent aggressor. Bacon often speaks with scorn of the ‘Normal Man’, the smug family man who has nothing but contempt for ‘sodomites’, and no compassion for another human being in pain. Love, for Bacon, would mean exposure, first to his house-servants and afterwards to the world at large: it would mean ridicule at best and, at worst, destruction and execution. What kind of choice is that? And so he has trained himself not to need or desire love – a training that’s put to the ultimate test when George Villiers explodes into his life like a comet. Bacon, it transpires, is ill-equipped to resist the very charms with which he hopes to dazzle the king. The scene is set for a complex dance of attraction, in which one misstep could lead to tragedy, and in which Bacon must judge what it is that he truly most desires: love? Or that thing which is rarer and more precious still – power? And the stakes grow ever higher for, as Villiers makes his triumphant entry into court life, Bacon hears a rumour that might bring down Carr completely: a rumour of betrayal, opportunism and murder.

Part love story, part political thriller, this is an engaging story which brings Bacon to centre-stage – a rare prominence, I think, at least in my experience of historical fiction. Despite his importance as a harbinger of modern scientific thought, Bacon doesn’t seem to make it to the first rank of characters: if he appears at all, he’s a secondary character, or a bit of a comic role, as seen in No Bed for Bacon (perhaps people like Helen, who’ve read a much wider range of fiction set in this period, will have encountered him more often). Blackmore is a dashing writer, combining period flavour with the odd modern turn of phrase, and the result is highly readable. His Bacon has a deliciously sarcastic narrative voice, convincingly that of a man far superior in intellect to the courtiers who look down on him. His shoulders are riddled with chips acquired while painstakingly clawing his way up the greasy pole, and the only time this Bacon ever seems truly comfortable is in the company of his best friend Ben Jonson – a wonderfully affectionate, appealing figure in Blackmore’s hands. This Bacon never quite scales the heights of another court functionary of the period – this isn’t quite Wolf Hall – but Blackmore conjures up all the avaricious jostle of the Jacobean court with aplomb.

Reading The Dangerous Kingdom of Love inevitably prompted flashbacks to other books: The King’s Assassin tells the same story from a non-fiction perspective, albeit with a less central role for Bacon. The prose style, with its mixture of wit and crudeness (not to mention its appreciation for pretty boys), reminded me a little of A Dead Man in Deptford, though I stress that Blackmore’s prose is much more approachable than Burgess’s; more, perhaps, along the line of To Be A King. I’m also looking forward to reading more about Robert and Frances Carr in The Poison Bed by Elizabeth Fremantle, which has been on my shelf for quite a while, and which promises to take a point of view that’s far more sympathetic to them. It’ll be very interesting to see how large a role Bacon plays there, and how he’s portrayed.

I should add that Blackmore has been extremely busy recently. The Dangerous Kingdom of Love is due to be released this coming July, but it’s only been a month since his last novel came out: The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle, which looks rather like a cross between The Talented Mr Ripley and The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. Intriguing…

(3.5 stars)

For the review, please see my blog:
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I’m not sure what I was expecting when I was invited to read this but it wasn’t a fast paced, intrigue set in the court of King James I and featuring Francis Bacon. Embracing the scheming of Machiavelli, Bacon is feeling slighted and deposed in influence and sets up a nefarious scheme to claw back power. What follows is a House of Cards style narrative where Bacon occasionally mutters snarky asides to the reader who is fully in his confidence. This was scandalous, amusing, wickedly good fun and salaciously queer. I can see it won’t be for everyone but if you don’t mind what is now considered offensive language (but wasn’t especially in 16th C) you’ll enjoy this pre-enlightenment era romp.
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