A Canopy of Stars, by Stephen Taylor

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Stephen Taylor and Sapere Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Stephen Taylor presents this wonderful Georgian courtroom drama that is sure to stir the emotions of readers throughout. A Canopy of Stars tackles issues of the law, anti-semitism, and gender roles throughout, forcing the reader to accept that history does repeat itself and one man’s plight can make a difference. Intriguing throughout, with a peppering or romance, Taylor does well to keep the reader guessing as the law takes hold in this piece. Recommended to those who love legal dramas wrapped in history.

The London Julia Carmichael knows in 1823 is not one she likes. An intelligent woman, she has been studying law under her father but is not allowed to practice, or even sit in the courtroom proper. Rather, she is left to the gallery, where she takes copious notes of all the cases that come before the Old Bailey. When David Neander, a young Jew who fled Germany, appears before the Court, the case captures Julia’s attention. Neander is on trial for stealing a sheep carcass and his life literally hangs in the balance.

Julia takes a passionate interest in Neander’s case, watching a man whose English is spotty being railroaded by the system and ushering him off to die. When Julia approaches Neander, she learns that his story is much more complicated and begins back in Germany, where anti-semitism was stronger than in England.

Frankfurt in 1819 emerges as a hateful place that shaped Neander’s actions when he arrived in England. The narrative offers the reader a detailed exploration of this time, touching on both the history and the social treatment of those deemed ‘problematic’. While Neander does not wish to shed too much light on it, these tidbits will be essential for Julia and her father to put up a proper defence and save a man from the gallows. It will be up to Julia to convince her client that his past could be the only things that provides him with a future.

Stephen Taylor does well to paint a picture of a time in English history well in the past, when roles were much different and yet racism was as prevalent as it is in parts of the world today. Capturing the essence of injustice with a strong undertone of defending one’s own beliefs, the story offers readers something on which to ponder well after finishing the final chapter.

While they are vastly different, I find that both Julia Carmichael and David Neander prove to be the essential protagonists of this piece, each offering their own personal growth. Some backstory provides readers with a great sense of context for Neander and might help describe the crimes for which he has been accused. It also gives the reader some historical context for how Neander expects to be treated by others. Carmichael struggles with the role of women in the law, something that Taylor hammers home throughout the narrative. Both are seeking to change their position in life, knowing it verges on the impossible.

Taylor pens a collection of strong secondary characters throughout this piece, which offers up some interesting flavouring to the story. Of particular interest in the backstory Neander has back in Germany and how Jews were treated. The eerie foreboding to another era of Jewish maltreatment drips from the descriptions of the supporting characters, which only adds to the story’s impact. While Carmichael does not like that she is relegated to the gallery, she fights tooth and nail to have time with her ‘client’ and works her skills as best she can to ensure that justice is served. The cast of the courtroom offers up some excellent challenges for her, something that cannot be discounted as the reader forges ahead.

While the story was strong and its theme shines through, there were moments of disbelief, even for the time, that I could not ignore. As others have said, Julia’s role seems a tad over enthusiastic, even as a legal assistant in 1823. Taylor may have been using some of his abilities as a fiction writer to give her a few additional powers that women of the time would never have dreamed of, which can be explained away. The narrative being split between England and Germany worked well, as did the great backstory of David Neander’s life. The reader cannot discount the importance of this throughout. With a strong narrative, supported by chapters of varying lengths, the reader is left wondering where things will progress in this most complex legal case. Taylor does well to paint the picture and provides the readers with something highly entertaining to read throughout.

Kudos, Mr. Taylor, for an insightful read. I will surely keep an eye out for other books you’ve written to learn more about you and the history that intrigues you.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons