“Bold, ambitious, and deliciously dark, Scatterwood plumbs the depths of monstrous deceit and unending misery. Alexander delivers it all with such dextrous and inventive prose that the reader cannot help but be swept away.”
“Alexander’s prose is the equivalent of a time machine, yanking the reader straight into a vibrant and breathtaking depiction of 17th century Jamaica.”
“This is an epic adventure, full of pungent period detail, a Dickensian cast of vibrant characters, plus a complex and brilliantly conceived plot which makes your head spin. 17th century London comes fully to life, with all its triumphs and inequalities, colour, texture and structure. One of those worlds you absorb so wholly, you itch to return. The language deserves a special mention. This is a beautifully written story, a masterclass in voice, character and description. So many lines stopped me in my tracks to just admire the craftsmanship of this prose.”
“The ambitious, cheeky Calumny Spinks is a great guide through the sensory overload of 17th century London, in an adventure that combines unexpected insights with just the right amount of rollicking ribaldry. I hope it’s the opener to a series.”
“This debut novel is a gripping evocation of late seventeenth century London, rich in persuasive dialect and period detail and with a bold protagonist. An unusual thriller that just keeps you wanting to know more about the many facets of this story. You’ll never view your coffee in quite the same way again.”
“I just finished The Bitter Trade by Piers Alexander – perhaps the best book I’ve read this year. Rollicking historical fiction set in 17th century London. It’s brilliant. Read it!”
“An excellent debut novel by a talented author. Piers Alexander will be a writer to watch.”
“The author creates a rich, evocative impression of life in the city of London through the eyes of his colourful cast. The ever twisting plot, beginning in an Essex backwater before reaching the fetid stench of London, is full of lust, crime, corruption and downright malevolence… Although indelibly grubby, the metropolitan stage forms the perfect counterpoint to this wonderfully spun novel that is lucid, lurid and fleet-of-foot… An addictive read that assault my sense. The Bitter Trade is very highly recommended.”
The Bitter Trade won the PEN Factor at The Literary Consultancy’s Writing In A Digital Age Conference. Jury Chair Rebecca Swift (Author, Poetic Lives: Dickinson) said: “The Pen Factor jury selected The Bitter Trade based on the quality of writing, the engaging plot, and the rich and unusual historical context. Dazzling and playful!”
Jury members included
- Larry Finlay, MD, Transworld
- Dan Franklin, Head of Digital, Random House
- Gordon Wise, Senior Literary Agent, Curtis Brown
- Jennifer Custer, Senior Literary Agent, AM Heath
- Piers Blofeld, Literary Agent, Sheil Land
As an enthusiastic drinker of coffee, I am not about to pass up a historical novel involving coffee, so I happily picked up Piers Alexander’s The Bitter Trade. The brief summary grabbed my interest, and I’m glad to say it did not disappoint. Alexander’s story is well-written, full of great wit, and highlights intriguing aspects of history. As I read, the atmosphere and characters felt authentic and reminded me of novels I have read written around that same time period. I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of this novel – especially the main character, Calumny Spinks. Both resourceful and dynamic, Calumny proves to be a highly unique and entertaining protagonist and I never encountered a dull moment in following his adventure. It’s engrossing and original, and I think other fans of historical fiction will be as delighted with it as I was. I recommend The Bitter Trade.
Calumny Spinks, a ‘long-limbed red-haired Frenchy gawk’ is the narrator of this novel and we follow his journey, after a tragic incident, from a small town in Essex to the big city of London where he becomes involved in conspiracies, coffeehouses and silk weavers.
There is so much packed into this clever novel, with twists and turns, romance, double dealings, murders, fears of an impending war and friendships, but it also has a soft side, especially the relationship between Calumny and his father which changed throughout the story. A really enjoyable fast-paced novel with memorable characters and a memorable storyline. Looking forward to the next chapter in the life of Mister Calumny Spinks.
There are so many rich characters and the plot is pretty strong for a first time novelist. All in all, this is a book I think you’ll enjoy as it’s a mystery, historical and really just a brilliant read. Cal, despite being a very lusty boy, is a strong hero and I hope that the author continues on with him, leading to other adventures as I think a series would be a good time and fun read.
What I really loved: The accurate description of life. There is no attempt to clean it up, to make it a romanticized version. I also absolutely loved Mr. Alexander’s use of the language of the time. Bloody brilliant.
The book is peopled with a roaring cast of finely drawn and delicious characters. One of its most fascinating elements is the way the author plays with the issues of gender roles. We meet several women, Abigail, Mister de Corvis’ daughter Emilia, the leprous John Hollow, Robin Cartwright, poor Violet’s protector and Mistress Frazier, cook and leader of the watermen, who, each in her own ways is defying the conventional roles imposed on 17th century women.
Interspersed is a cracking good story about the rise of coffee house culture in London as well as a great deal of authentic detail about the rise, organisation and functioning of London craft guilds. The language is by turns funny and wry, or lyrical, such as this description of “the headless serpent of the Thames crawling crookedly between rows of streets.” London jumps out of these pages in all her warty, noisy, smelly glory. How Cal achieves at least some of his goals and Britain acquires a permanently Protestant king and government are two global themes of this ambitious first novel by Piers Alexander, but this is the least part of the feast of we are treated to in The Bitter Trade. Definitely 5*****
The Bitter Trade didn’t start off anything like I was expecting. There were so many family secrets that were hinted at and the obvious danger to Cal and his family was palpable – but why? It was very intriguing. I also loved the name Calumny Spinks – and how it plays into the family history. Actually, the family drama alone was enough to keep my interest – but then add in blackmail, political intrigue, rebellion, betrayal and a lots of really great characters and you have a real winner. The conflict leads Cal on a wild adventure and many opportunities to grow up and prove himself. Honestly, I hate to reveal any of the conflicts and plots that are in The Bitter Trade. I don’t want to ruin the fun for other readers. Suffice to say that London in 1688 is a dangerous and volatile place – especially if you come from Cal’s family line. This was a fast and entertaining book that I can happily recommend to anyone interested in history.
If I had to describe this book, I would say it was fun and unique. The opening pages with the unique voice of the protagonist, Calumny Spinks immediately gripped me. I always enjoy a story with odd an unusual quirky characters, and this novel has them in abundance. The novel is set in 17th century England during the revolution and a pending Dutch invasion and around the time the coffee industry was taking hold. There were plenty of secrets, lots of dissension, and extremely colorful scenes from start to finish. With its unpredictable plot, great storyline, and lovable main character, there is much to enjoy. For a unique reading experience, I definitely recommend this wonderful novel.
Few novels have impressed me as much as Alexander’s debut. Richly atmospheric, the narrative plunges readers into the cutthroat world of England’s capital, immersing them in a deliciously dark climate of suspicion and intrigue. Calumny Spinks, the unfortunately named son of an ill-favored union, proves a captivating and charismatic protagonist. Young though he is, the resourceful seventeen year old develops a bold, ambitious and passionate persona over the course of the narrative. A cheeky, foul-mouthed rogue with a propensity for trouble, the boy is memorable for all the right reasons and he isn’t the only one. Across the board, Alexander composes a host of engaging and thought-provoking characters, individuals who illustrate what it meant to be outsiders, subject to English law but beyond its protection. I liked his wickedly sharp and biting prose: fast-paced and quick-witted, one can’t help being swept into Cal’s world and the conspiratorial schemes of which he finds himself a part.
Calumny Spinks is a unique, street urchin type of character that takes to the late 17th Century London streets and sets his sights on becoming a coffee racketeer, as during this time, coffee was very popular. Since times were tough and unstable, commodities were fought over like life’s blood. Piers Alexander’s novel reminded me a bit like reading some of my favorite Charles Dickens novels, mostly in terms of setting feel, period details, and original, yet loveable, characters! His writing style was even similar to 17th Century London authors, as he wrote set into the time of course, but as well there was still an ease to the writing and reading and would be understandable to all readers. I highly recommend The Bitter Trade for an entertaining, suspenseful novel that brings some sides of the Glorious Revolution to fuller light.
I found the main protagonist, Calumny Spinks, to be fully engaging. He grows throughout the book and he’s a bit of a rogue – his mouth can be sharp and foul as needed. The setting is nearly a character itself (just how I like my settings) and you never forget that you are in 1688 England. Public sanitation is all but nonexistent; the food is fairly simple if rich and hearty at times; traveling from point a to point b takes time. The pacing is great – not so fast-paced as to gloss over stuff and not so detailed as to bog the reader down. And the prose is excellent. The imagery sometimes had me chuckling out loud, nodding my head in agreement, or even grimacing. Overall, a very good read having an intricate plotline, a fully engaging lead character, and being educational to boot. If coffee and revolution and English history are your things, then this is definitely a good read for you.
On more than a few occasions my Dad said to me “From the smallest acorn comes the biggest oak”, a folk homily that nicely encapsulates The Bitter Trade. There is a lot in this novel that smacks of the picaresque, but it is very much a modern novel, grounded in reality, and at times steeped in the brutality of the era. The story barely has begun before Calumny witnesses a member of his family being scolded. From there Calumny gets caught up in a series of plots and encounter that flies by in a pell-mell fashion, as he moves through society, sometimes a pawn, and sometimes in charge of his own destiny, but always with wit and a panache that I have seldom encountered. The author does a sensational job of keeping the plot twists and turns coming without slowing down the story. Calumny is not exactly the nicest character, and often comes across as a selfish bastard, but he manages to redeem himself just enough, and he is always fascinating. This is one of my favorite novels that I have read recently, and I am happy to say that a sequel is in the works. I will be waiting with bated coffee-breath.
I like Calumny Spinks. He occasionally has a filthy mouth and way too many hormones for one teenage boy… The rhythm of the language Mr. Alexander uses in The Bitter Trade is high up on my list of favorites. It conveys the difference in language between then and now well, while remaining accessible to most readers. I am excited (already) to read the sequel when it comes out.
The majority of historical fiction novels I have read have women as the main characters, but every once in a while I get the urge to read a good old fashioned adventure story about a male character trying to make his way in the world. I enjoyed reading The Bitter Trade so much because Calumny Spinks wasn’t a lord, or anything really noble, just a poor man’s son who wants to be apprenticed into a trade and eventually earn the title of “Mister” and secure his place in society. These are big dreams for our 17 year old protagonist but he’s got a cunning mind and he’s actually one of those characters who reveals his true self, in terms of strengths and weaknesses in layers. I liked that Calumny was a character I saw evolve.
The story was a thrilling one. There was mystery, political intrigue, betrayal and treason afoot. I never knew where the story was headed, and I enjoyed the thrill of trying to figure it out. London in the 1600s on the brink of a revolution was a dangerous place to be, and the way Piers Alexander depicted it was brilliant. The sights, sounds and smells (let’s face it, London didn’t smell great then) all came alive for me in the reading of this extremely well written debut. I wait to see how the story continues.
I’d recommend this novel for all those who enjoy historical fiction but want to really delve into the London underbelly of the 1600s with a great cast of characters, and a fascinating story that is both easy to follow and enthralling.
Taking place in the late 1600’s, The Bitter Trade is an entertaining debut. The Glorious Revolution, Dutch invasion and coffee houses in London are all unfamiliar events to me, which made this book all the more fascinating. Calumny Spinks is only 17 years old when introduced, he just wants to be called Mister and to be apprenticed. But when his father’s past catches up with them, things take a turn for the worst. The first bit of this book he came across as an immature adolescent but it was interesting to see how his character evolved throughout this book.
Clearly the author is well versed in this time period, it is evident that a lot of research has been done. His writing style is smooth and flows nicely, with clear and distinct descriptions of the time period, location and customs. Looking forward to seeing more by this author.
Calumny Spinks becomes entangled with people trying to build a coffee trade, and who therefore are seeking to overthrow King James in favor of William of Orange… This scheming and politicking is complicated when read in a history book, but seen narrowly through the eyes of Calumny (who is, by the way, a very lusty young man) it flows in a way that makes sense. Everything is new to him, and he is not one to examine the morality of what he is told to do. All he wants is to become a man of position, to be called “Mister” or “Master,” and so he does what he’s told and adds a bit of scheming of his own.
With a vividly depicted backdrop that manages to encompass the beauty and the ugliness of its time period, I would recommend The Bitter Trade to fans of unromanticized, unsanitized historical fiction.
If you enjoy historical novels, this is a good choice. Calumny is an engaging character. He begins the novel as a disappointed adolescent, but he has a deep seated loyalty to his father and the people he loves that tests his mettle and forces him to make choices between what he knows is right and his dreams of wealth.
As someone who ‘inhabits’ the seventeenth century as an historical interpreter and a fan of historical novels, I jumped at the chance to review Piers Alexander’s debut novel The Bitter Trade. The Bitter Trade was a delight and no glaring anachronisms detracted from the story. The book is set at the time of the political turmoil of the Glorious Revolution in 1688 and the action is fast paced, making the book hard to put down. The plot is complex enough to hold the interest of the reader without being confusing. The characters, particularly that of the hero Calumny Spinks, are well drawn and believable. The Bitter Trade is also beautifully written, with intricately drawn descriptive passages. Alexander’s characters do not speak in genuine seventeenth century language but this is just as well as it would alienate the majority of readers, rendering as it would the text incomprehensible to all but Shakespearian scholars. The author gets the balance just right.
Calumny Spinks, telling name and all, is an old-fashioned hero, his first-person narrative of the chancer in dire straits reminding the reader of the picaresque novel of the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Yet Alexander wears his history lightly – his novel is a bit of a page-turner, reading at times more like a whodunit than a historical novel as the author reveals its secrets slowly and every chapter takes us closer to the protagonist’s truth. Behind the poverty, extortion and murder there is a mischievous lightheartedness in Calumny’s tall stories that keep you going to the end and still leave you wondering what might be happening next.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Thoroughly. I think the writing is superb and the descriptions transport you to London 1688, with its busyness, its stinkiness, its bawdiness and its lawlessness. The story is written in the first person from the point of view of Calumny, with some humour and clever observation. There is enough period language and syntax to make me feel I was reading about another era, but not so much that the text didn’t flow for a modern-day reader. It is as much, if not more, about the silk trade as the coffee trade – all fascinating. The characters are all really well drawn and there are some strong females in the story, which you might not expect from a novel set in this time. I would highly recommend this book, particularly to people who enjoy historical novels, but also to those who think they don’t – try it; this just might be the book to convert you.
Calumny Spinks (I love his name!) is one of the most loveable characters you’ll ever meet. He’s somewhat shy and childish, but has great wit and humor at the same time. He has recogniseable emotions, hopes and dreams, which makes you feel for him. I think The Bitter Trade is, besides being a really enjoyable read, a good account of what more or less happened during this revolution and why the guildsmen and certain important people wanted the king gone and how this actually happened. Alexander also speaks of this at the end of the book, which gives the book in my opinion more value than just a nice story would.
This novel was unlike anything I have read before. The plot had many unpredictable twists and turns. The characters and settings were vivid… Sight, smell, touch. I could not put it down.
This is a beautifully written novel. Piers Alexander brings 17th century England to vivid life with its smells, sounds and colours in exceptionally brilliant prose, wrapping a moving and compelling tale I simply could not put down. I can’t categorise him, his is a style entirely of his own – but perhaps a mixture of Terry Pratchett, Irvine Welsh and Simon Schama would be half way there. It is sometimes funnier, often darker and more historically and affectionately detailed.
The late seventeenth century sees the ending of Christian sectarian violence in Britain and the beginnings of effective political contract and compromise . Into this background Mr Alexander introduces a stubbornly inquisitive young protagonist who simply refuses to grow up as adults expect him too , and a wonderfully convoluted plot , at the back of which is a secular council quite as monopolistic and controlling as any religious body . There is atmosphere here , good description ( especially in the streets of London ) and some strong characters . The trilogy of which this is planned as the first part will be a very considerable construction , but in the meanwhile Piers Alexander has written a cult book awaiting its cult – a sort of John Barth/ Sot Weed Factor for this decade . We should welcome him and buy this book .
This is a superb novel. The characters are totally believable and three-dimensional. The descriptions of London in the 17th century are so vivid that you can almost smell the rivers, and the populace! The plot is neither too simple and boring nor too convoluted and hard work. This is the author’s first novel, and it has already won awards. I’m already looking forward to his next.
Calumny Spinks makes a determined, cocky protagonist and simultaneously gains the reader’s pity and admiration. He is the first of many believable and well described characters in this colourful story. An extremely visual book whose qualities would make an intriguing film, the reader is sucked into the 1600s through descriptive prose conjuring up the smells, sights and sounds of London.The plot is thorough with delightful twists and endless and often disturbing surprises.
A believable insight into the grimness of the 17th century and I have no hesitation in recommending it.
This book and the characters within are both believable and engaging..it ended too soon! the best read I have had for a good while. I await the next installment with ill concealed impatience.
I really enjoyed reading The Bitter Trade. This isn’t normally the sort of book I would read, but I was drawn in by the synopsis and I’m very glad I did read it. I found Calumny to be a likeable enough character and found his story very engrossing. I loved the little dictionary at the end of the book explaining some of Calumny’s language, and the chapter at the end full of facts about the history of the time period was a very nice touch. The text is so beautifully written. Piers Alexander has a wonderful writing style, and I really felt like I was in the 1600’s when reading it. It’s hard to believe that this is his debut novel! I look forward to reading more of his novels in the future.
Excellent book, with a great plot, interesting characters and a wonderful depiction of London at the time of the Glorious Revolution. It’s all too easy to forget that Londoners drank coffee long before tea became popular, and coffee houses have been centres of society for hundreds of years. My only question is, when’s the next book out? I want to know what happens to Calumny!!
Cal takes us on a journey through his personal story of love, murder, treachery, and the responsibilities that come with inheritance. Though I’m not a fan of historical fiction, Alexander weaves a beautiful tale. A master of words, he makes us fall in love with Cal, despite his shortcomings, rooting for his luck to change. The story reminds us of our volatile past, making us appreciate even the cup of coffee we have in the mornings.
A historical novel set in the late 17th century London at a time of great religious conflict. This book is a swashbuckling romp through those uncertain times. The author uses language of the period but it is easily read and flows at a good pace. It is an extraordinarily good and absorbing novel. I loved the writing.
The writing is extraordinarily good. The author’s vivid portrayal of English life after Cromwell (religious tensions, nationalist tensions) is seamless and absorbing. His descriptive powers are nearly comparable to Dickens. I look forward to reading his next book because one senses that Piers Alexander will only improve with time.