I was interested to read Barbara's comment that despite being a fan of Rose Tremain's, she gave up on Music & Silence as she couldn't get on with it. Happily, I loved it, but it took a long time to read, and although the chapters are short, it repays an investment of a solid hour or two - rather than doing a few pages here and there - as I found that's when the book really began to sing.
The novel is set at the court of King Christian IV of Denmark in the years 1629-30. The King, world-weary, beset by financial problems and infatuated with his consort, the faithless Kirsten, employs an English lutenist to join his orchestra and, with the musician's angelic countenance and "eyes the colour of summer air", to be his confidant and protector. Despite this patronage, Peter Claire finds little at court to sustain him through the long, dark winter, but when he meets Emilia, one of Kirsten's retinue, the face of Denmark suddenly brightens.
I might best describe this as a glittering, spider's web of a book. The spiders are Christian and Kirsten, the flies, Peter and Emilia. While there is scheming and predation on the one hand, so there is ingenuity and serendipity on the other. Kirsten, the "Almost Queen", is a marvellously dreadful character, grotesque and compelling; demanding, manipulative and blackly comic, she's not unlike Miranda Richardson's Queen Elizabeth I in Blackadder. Christian is plagued by responsibility, a chronic shortage of funds which requires him to pawn Iceland, and a conscience troubled by the death of his boyhood friend. He struggles, and despite wanting the best for his country he finds prosperity and stability hard to achieve.
But the web is not all about entrapment and striving - it's bejewelled with dew, as it were, in the form of still-lifes, vignettes, episodes and moments which in their beauty, imagination and precision bring the book to life. There is a touch of magical realism and pleasingly eccentric references to calligraphy, buttons and jam as minor motifs throughout the story, but beyond all the quirks and foibles this is quite fabulous, rich, beautifully rendered stuff, and I was truly sorry to reach the end.