Review: The Apostates by V.E.H. Masters


It’s 1550 and Bethia has fled Antwerp, with her infant son, before the jaws of the inquisition clamp down, for the family are accused of secret judaising. She believes they’ve evaded capture but her husband, Mainard, unbeknownst to her, is caught, imprisoned and alone.

Reaching Geneva, Bethia hopes for respite from a dangerous journey, but it’s a Protestant city state which tolerates no dissent – and she’s a Catholic. And why has Mainard not come?

Perhaps he’s already reached Venice where Jews can live openly, the Virgin gazes benignly from every corner and difference is tolerated, for the wealthy at least. Yet much is hidden beneath the smooth waters of this perilous city. Must they again flee to survive…

My Review

In this volume, we continue the travels of Bethia and Mainard (and their growing family). It’s beginning to look like there isn’t a safe place in Europe for these religious outcasts. Neither Catholic nor Jewish, the Conversos are rejected by both, and Bethia is tainted by association with her new family, while Mainard shows alarming tendencies of relapsing back into Judaism. His sister Katheline has already gone over the edge, displaying reckless behavior that threatens her family with arrest, execution, or worse. Poor Bethia’s world seems to constrict all around her, though she initially finds solace in Venice, which still leans toward veneration of the Virgin Mary, giving her comfort. But before long, the old persecutions are rearing their ugly heads in Venice as well. The author depicts the fears and frustrations of the Conversos very effectively. I was easily able to identify with their paranoia:

Then one day da Molina came to warn Mainard that the family were under suspicion. Katheline’s activities were not so secret after all. And there were questions about Papa’s burial. Neighbours had reported the unnatural speed with which he was interred and even worse that the corpse was wrapped in white linen – a most foreign and unchristian act. The sense of being constantly watched grew until Bethia was glancing all around her whenever she left home.

At the same time, Bethia’s brother Will has gone back to Calvin and trains to be a preacher, himself. So now she has something else to worry about. The Protestants are beset with internal fighting between Calvin and the heretic Servetus, and although this is all in the background, it serves to illustrate even more religious strife in the period. There is no safe place for Bethia to raise her family, and it’s a wonder she is able to hold body and soul together. As a character she is amazingly resilient, and provides the anchor for the reader to hang onto.

Amazon UK:

Meet V E H Masters

VEH Masters was born and brought up on a farm a few miles outside St Andrews, Scotland.  The first time she ever visited St Andrews Castle was aged 12, when her history teacher took the class on a school trip. They crept down the siege tunnel and peered into the bottle dungeon, where Cardinal Beaton’s body was said to have been kept pickled in salt for the 14 months of the siege. She was hooked!

The Apostates is the third novel in The Seton Chronicles. She loves to chat (blether we would say in Scotland) and is keen to hear readers comments, ideas and suggestions. You’ll find out more at and can contact her there, and join the special Readers Group.

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