England 1646. The Civil War is raging and society turned upside down. 

What should be a rare moment of blessing for the town of Ely takes a brutal turn and Ruth Flowers is left with little choice but to flee the household of Oliver Cromwell, the only home she has ever known. On the road to London, Ruth sparks an uneasy alliance with a deserting soldier, the battle-scarred and troubled Joseph. But when she reaches the city, it’s in the Poole household that she finds refuge. 

Lizzie Poole, beautiful and charismatic, enthrals the vulnerable Ruth, who binds herself inextricably to Lizzie’s world. But in these troubled times, Ruth is haunted by fears of her past catching up with her. And as Lizzie’s radical ideas escalate, Ruth finds herself carried to the heart of the country’s conflict, to the trial of a king.

Thoughts

The Crimson Ribbon is an amazing debut which is not only set in one of my favourite historical eras but also explores the fascinating topic of the witch hunts where many women were falsely accused of consorting with the devil and were tortured into confessing their unholy crimes. The spectre of witchcraft hangs over Ruth for much of the novel, however it is never better portrayed than in the opening chapter when Ruth’s mother is unjustly blamed for the delivery of a deformed child. The villagers work themselves into a frenzy denouncing both Ruth and her mother with wicked accusations about their behaviour and Ruth is forced to witness her mother being hanged.

The book is narrated by Ruth in the present tense which is not normally to my liking, however I’ve been reading a few books in this tense lately so I actually found it easy to read and barely noticed which hopefully means I’m getting used to it. Despite being told solely from Ruth’s point of view, it was easy to discern when Ruth was being blinded by her love for Elizabeth and I desperately wanted to shake her at certain points.

Elizabeth Poole is a real life historical figure of whom little is known but I think the author did an intelligent job of filling in the gaps and bringing Elizabeth to life. Elizabeth isn’t really a character you can have sympathy with as she uses people and causes them a lot of heartache as her mental health declines. The relationship between Elizabeth and Ruth is marred by Ruth’s inability to see Elizabeth’s true colours and I felt it was given too much attention to the detriment of Joseph. Joseph could’ve been a really interesting character if he had been given more of a voice and not consigned into the background.