It is 1596 and Queen Elizabeth I is soon to visit Montacute House where Cess is just a lowly poultry girl. But then a boy is found dead, and other boys are mysteriously missing - one of them Cess’s only friend, William.
Risking kidnap and death herself, Cess searches for William and uncovers a conspiracy to kill the Queen and usurp the throne. Using her wit and the powers of witchcraft, she defeats the conspirators and discovers the mystery surrounding her birth.
Skilfully blending fact and fiction, Jago creates a convincing picture of late 16th century life in a great house inspired by Montacute, a surviving National Trust property. Cess may speak like a 21st century girl, but Montacute House offers readers an insight into the uncertainties of life in the Elizabethan era, touching on religious beliefs, espionage, witchcraft, prejudice, poverty and disease, which would make this book a useful resource for studying history at Key Stage 3.
The female characters are particularly well-drawn, notably Edith, the midwife/witch, and Cess makes for a strong heroine, questioning the expectations of her contemporaries as she strives to understand her true identity.