Tudor London: 1540. Each night, after dark, men flock to Bankside seeking girls of easy virtue; prostitutes known as The Winchester Geese. Joanie Toogood has worked the streets of Southwark since childhood but her path is changed forever by an encounter with Francis Wareham, a spy for the King's secretary, Thomas Cromwell.
Meanwhile, across the River, at the glittering court of Henry VIII, Wareham also sets his cap at Evelyn and Isabella Bourne, members of the Queen's household and the girls, along with Joanie, are drawn into intrigue and the shadow of the executioner's blade. Set against the turmoil of Henry VIII's middle years, The Winchester Goose provides a brand new perspective of the happenings at the royal court, offering a frank and often uncomfortable observation of life at both ends of the social spectrum.
Isabella and Eve are going to Court to serve Anne of Cleves who Isabella becomes close to, while attractive Eve makes a stir at Court and only the King falling for Katherine Howard keeps her safe from Royal lust. Eve then falls in love with Francis Wareham, the handsome young man who is a secret spy for Cromwell. Francis is also a regular visitor the local prostitute Joanie, so when Francis gets into trouble, all of his women are drawn into danger.
There are several POV in this book and the most interesting in the first half of the book is certainly Joanie. She is the tart with a heart who has two sisters to look after and has only ever loved Francis. She is unhappy to discover that Francis rashly agrees to marry Eve when he cannot bed her otherwise. Eve discovers that her husband is a liar and a cheat, bedding countless women behind her back though she knows nothing of Joanie. Isabella who tried to warn Eve to avoid Francis, is caught up in the Court lives of Anne and Katherine.
The first half features the King's divorce from Anne and her fear for her life as seen through Isabella's eyes but most of the story features on Francis and his women. Eve for me was a dumb airhead who was determined to marry a rogue because she was in love, despite an honourable match with a decent man being offered to her. While I understand the wish to avoid an arranged husband and marrying for love, she was really blind to who her love was. Isabella is the strong but plain sister who would have loved the match that her sister spurned but soon forgets romance when she is moved to serve Katherine Howard. I liked the relationship between Isabella and Katherine, the way they had little time for each other until Isabella was there for her during her fall from grace.
It is the second half of the book where things really hot up. Eve discovers a lot of her husbands secrets and is about to meet Joanie, Isabella is torn between serving the Queen and her new husband who wishes his wife to abandon Katherine. The dark deeds of Francis put Eve and Joanie in danger and Joanie is forced into a horrific situation which brings her closer to Eve. Katherine confesses all her sins to a horrified Isabella who tries to advise her and help her avoid death. It is a rollercoaster with lots of action and intrigue involving all of our main characters and I was interested to see where it was going to lead.
This book was well written, not over descriptive and the characters are nicely developed through the various events that they endure. For those interested, The Winchester Geese was the collective name for the prostitutes who worked this part of London, hence the title refers to Joanie. I liked the way the author shows the gritty side of Tudor London and the hard life that these women endured, along with the risks that they took on the job. We also see that the rich Court that everyone wanted to attend was just as deadly for hooking you up with the wrong men and losing your head at the whim of the King.
It was a totally different Tudor tale and I look forward to reading other books by this author.