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The Black Madonna

Roundheads & Cavaliers, Book 1
Narrated by: Alex Wyndham
Length: 22 hrs and 10 mins
Categories: Fiction, Historical
5 out of 5 stars (44 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

As England slides into Civil War, master-goldsmith and money-lender, Luciano Falcieri del Santi embarks on his own hidden agenda.

A chance meeting one dark night results in an unlikely friendship with Member of Parliament, Richard Maxwell.

Richard’s daughter, Kate - a spirited girl who vows to hold their home against both Cavalier and Roundhead - soon finds herself fighting an involuntary attraction to the clever, magnetic, and diabolically beautiful Italian. Hampered by the warring English and the quest itself growing daily more dangerous, Luciano begins to realize that his own life and that of everyone close to him rests on the knife-edge of success...for only success will permit him to reclaim the Black Madonna and offer his heart to the girl he loves. From the machinations within Parliament to the last days of the King’s cause, The Black Madonna is an epic saga of passion and intrigue at a time when England was lost in a dark and bloody conflict.

©2013 Stella Riley (P)2019 Stella Riley

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  • Cate F.
  • Richmond, VA USA
  • 06-23-19

This EXCELLENT book absorbed me completely.

Stella Riley creates such vivid characters that I feel as if I am time traveling into an era I knew nothing about before I began reading her books set during the English Civil War. Alex Wyndham’s interpretation of this beautifully written story kept me up nights listening to “just a few more minutes,” repeatedly. Not only are the main characters complex and fully rounded, the secondary ones have genuine personalities and points of view. None of them are included just to advance the plot.
I am begging Audible to publish the next book in the series soon. Despite the happy ending for one pair, there are many more outcomes to resolve.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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A treasure...

This book is a treasure, a keeper, to return to again and again ...curl up, cup of tea, take me to romantic England and become a part of lives and legends. Thank you Stella Riley for your insight and imagination. Narrator was awesome, so many characters! I enjoyed this book very much. Take it slow, lots going on...all good.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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One of the BEST books I have ever read!

Although I had high expectations to begin with, because I have never read a Stella Riley book that didn’t deserve 5 stars, The Black Madonna na managed to surpass even those high expectations.

I have waited for 3 years to read the series because I was fairly certain that Alex Wyndham might one day narrate it, so when Audible released the audio, I decided to finally start the series. Alex Wyndham is the best narrator I have ever heard—and he was stellar! His voice is gorgeous, romantic, suave, and smooth.

The writing is brilliant. The dialogue is intelligent, with a lot of humor. The plot is fascinating and I never once got bored or hoped she would hurry up and get to the point. There were no foolish misunderstandings or miscommunications. All of characters were believable and fully sketched.

As an American, I wasn’t that familiar with the English Civil War, and while I learned a lot, it wasn’t dry or boring. There was the perfect blend of history, mystery and romance. I can’t express how much I loved it!

Since I am now so invested in these fascinating characters, and what will happen to them, I will continue reading the remainder of the books in the series, and just have to listen to the audiobooks when each one is released.

I can’t recommend this book and the author enough!

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Lu
  • 07-03-19

Wonderful narration of a great story!

I could listen to Alex Wyndham all day. His voice is seductive, his performance remarkable, and he brings the listening experience to a whole new level. Whenever he partners with the talented Stella Riley, the result is breathtaking.
In Black Madonna, Alex outdid himself as the complex Luciano de Santi (and as the strong Kate Maxwell) literally taking the reader into a journey through 1639 England.
The eminent civil war, the religious tension, and the different backgrounds of the MC's are the ingredients of this amazing story.
This is the first book of the Rounds and Cavaliers Series and there is more of Luciano and Kate to enjoy in the next books (as side characters). I am crossing my fingers hoping they will also be released in audio soon.
What I like the most about Black Madonna and the other books in the series is how historical facts and figures are intertwined in the story.



2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Stef
  • Asheville, NC USA
  • 06-20-19

Awesome

What a great author and narrator! I read this book on Kindle, and have read her other books in audio, which also have the same narrator. Therefore, I feel comfortable recommending this highly. I hope the others in this series are released as soon as possible.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Loved the story, the characters and the narration

Stella Riley and Alex Wyndham have this amazing ability to draw you in....and keep you there. I could not stop listening. Wonderful story, great characters and the luscious voice of Alex Wyndham. What could be better?

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Incredible

Once again the perfect compilation of the exquisite writing of Stella Riley and the incredible narration of Alex Wyndham! Do yourself a favor and don’t miss this one!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Beth B
  • Toronto, Canada
  • 06-26-19

Dazzling and beautiful, a tale of mystery and love read by a master narrator

Stella Riley once again weaves a story full of history and wonderful characters and an intricate plot that you eagerly follow throughout its twists and turns. Every word she writes helps bring alive these amazing people, who I would love to meet in real life, but fortunately get to visit over and over. Her research is impeccable, the details are engrossing and when you finish one of her books, its like finishing a great meal, satisfying and yet sad it is over. I loved this book as it is the start of her much loved and praised Civil War series.
This book follows the story of the Maxwell family before and after the start of the Civil War. A mysterious Italian enters their lives and their stories begin to entwine. Luciano is on his own mission to track down the people responsible for his father’s death. He grows close to Richard the father of the Maxwell family and slowly secrets come to light. To Kate, the oldest Maxwell daughter, he is both annoying and intriguing and she too is pulled into his orbit against her will. Tensions mount and lead to a very bloody war, dividing families and friends against each other. As the war winds on, each person is affected by it and relationships are strained to the breaking point.
Above all the fracas is Luciano, who remains neutral and uninvolved in the war, pursuing his purpose and remaining maddeningly aloof to a closer relationship with Kate.

Alex Wyndham skillful narration once again brings the characters to life and keeps you on the edge of your seat. He inhabits the characters, adding nuance to each one. His wonderful voice is a delight to listen to.

Each book by Stella Riley is a work of art, written in a style uniquely her own. She writes whole characters with strengths and weaknesses on display and who make mistakes but persevere. Her plots hold together beautifully and she makes you want more each time you get to the end. I was so happy this book was 22 plus hours as I knew the story would be all the more intriguing and balanced. I would give many more than 5 stars if possible.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Loved this book!!

Alex Wyndham and Stella Riley combination never disappoints. I really love Alex’s voices. I do not know how he keeps all those characters straight!! But he does and it is marvelous. Stella is an amazing writer and the story was beautiful!! I not only was invested in the Hero and Heroine but the side Characters were great too! Stella does such a great job of combining history and beautiful story telling. If you love history like I do you will love this book. I learned a lot about the English Civil War that I did not know. This is definitely worth the credit if you love romance novels that have great historical research behind them.

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  • D
  • 07-01-19

C'est Merveilleux!

A slow, arduous, and gripping journey across a broad spectrum of characters, but a subtly sensual delight to intrigue and captivate any ardent romance reader. Especially, with the tantalizing vocal renderings of an enthralling artiste, such as Mr. Alex Wyndham.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • K. Greaves
  • 06-27-19

Lived up to Expectations

I have to confess that I love the print version of this book so much that I was extremely reluctant to actually start listening to Alex Wyndham narrating it. I should not have worried, the voices bring the characters to life and Alex has succeeded in converting me to audio books - I can listen whilst cooking or gardening! My greatest surprise was finding the detail was more defined in this medium and brought to life things that I had forgotten but were pertinent to the ongoing story or development of the characters. Alex Wyndham has done a wonderful job with a work of historical fiction that has a convoluted plot (I don’t want to give anything away) and a fine cast of characters. Alex’s rendition of Nathan was wonderfully slimy. The narration of this book was addictive, unbelievably I felt I had to reach the end in the shortest time possible although I knew what was going to happen. I shall look forward to the remaining three volumes in this series, please, please.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • SJS Nussle
  • 06-26-19

A magnificent book and performance

Stella Riley's excellent Roundheads and Cavaliers series gets to a rousing start with Alex Wyndham's reading of The Black Madonna. Part history, part mystery, part revenge plot, part family saga and part romance, The Black Madonna brings us all the drama, revolutionary excitement and passions of the First Civil War era. It starts some three years before the war and leads us to its inglorious end in 1646, alluding on the way to the birth of journalism and political cartoons on Fleet Street and exploring the religious and political convictions that led the country to such a bloody time. A time that pit friend against friend, dividing communities and families, and resulting in great loss and some terrible actions by both sides. A time of heroism too - not only on the battlefield, but in the printing presses, the households, the shops and farms, and in all the 'little things' so beloved of Kate Maxwell, the heroine of The Black Madonna.

Stella Riley is a mistress of scene-building, weaving history and the personal stories of her characters seamlessly together, and exploring their motivation and personalities to their limits. The evolution of Kate, from reserved and socially awkward teenager to warm, assured woman is especially interesting, but so is Luciano's gradual softening and opening through his friendship with Richard and his love for Kate. And Kate's brother Eden... heavens, Stella puts him through hell. No wonder he becomes so hard. The disaster-waiting-to-happen, and the helpless foreknowledge of his family, will be familiar to anyone who has witnessed a loved one marry someone selfish and unsuitable.

Secondary characters are just as interesting - my favourites being Selim, the maid-seducing, scimitar-wielding Turk, the clever pairing of Toby and Geoffrey, with their cartoons and printing press, the virago Giannetta of the many jewels, tamed by a Irish clan leader, and Venetia and Kit Clifford - especially the glimpse we get of Venetia's passion for politics that Riley explores more fully in Garland of Straw. The kind and charming Kit Clifford tugs at the heartstrings: he recognises Kate's value long before she unfurls her petals and offers her a love that she tries, but is unable to return, with tragic consequences (it’s not the least of Ms Riley’s creative virtues that she risks her readers disapproving of her main characters for the sake of making them better rounded). And, above all, Richard and Dorothy, who must be amongst the most wonderful parents in literature. Richard especially is a fantastic character in his own right - the moderate MP caught up in a mad, extremist time, and whose instincts and friendships are open-hearted and tolerant. His subplot - both the political and the personal - was an especially heart-rending one. The villains are excellent characters too: silver-tongued blackguards, or craven, or eccentric, such as Justice Fisher, a Dickensian character both awful and fascinating.

Some welcome cameos by characters from A Splendid Defiance (hello Captain Ambrose and Hugh Vaughn, and so sorry spoilt Celia slapped you, Abby) - a mirror of encounters described in that book, only from Kate's perspective.

Alex Wyndham, as ever, brings Stella's characters and events to life with power, wit and artistry. He does justice to the great material. I hope he goes on to record the rest of the series. On the evidence of The Black Madonna, it would be entirely worth it.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Wayne
  • 07-06-19

This Author/Narrator duo is inimitable!

(I used my hubby's credit for this book. Loved it so much I am leaving a review! - Heidi)

If you are a fan of well researched, detailed and complex historical fiction and you have never read or listened to a Stella Riley book, please stop what you are doing and run to get your hands on this one. It is a glorious piece of work which completely captivated me. Her writing ability is so unique and in this book she has crafted a vast array of the most multidimensional characters. The book spans several years and is beautifully paced. You are given the time to watch plots unfold, relationships evolve and feel a connection to their stories and the political chaos of the time. Riley brings to life the intrigues and turmoil of the English Civil War in a way I have never experienced with any other author.

I waited to read this series in hope that there would be an audio version and I am so pleased I did. The Audible version was a commitment at 22 hrs and 10 mins listening time; however, Alex Wyndham's narration is so masterful I wish it could have kept going. It is like falling in love all over again, so I am off to have another listen to A Splendid Defiance just to revisit Justin Ambrose and Abby Radford's story. Oh and of course more of Alex Wyndham's voice is a bonus! (less)

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Magius
  • 07-04-19

Gripping story bringing historical events to life

Stella Riley has a wonderful skill in weaving the story into real historical events and people, breathing vibrant life to a period that seems chaotic and dreary if reduced to mere factual dates.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • MISS PENELOPE E HUGHES
  • 06-24-19

Beautifully performed

I have read this book many times along with the rest of the series. Listening to it has been lovely and the voices were just as I imagined them. I am happy that an Italian accent was not used for Luciano as he had spent much of his time in England. It was beautifully read with much feeling and understanding.
The only slight downside was that Giacomo sounded like a character in The Player but as Alex has created the voices in many of the books I suppose that was likely to happen!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Kindle Customer
  • 06-24-19

Superb

Loved this book for years and Alex Wyndham's narration is as amazing as always. Luciano and Kate are wonderfully complex characters and the accuracy of historical detail and 'real' people combined with the story of this fictional family made the Roundheads and Cavaliers series one of the most memorable I have ever read. Hoping the other books will follow soon and of course performed by Alex!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Rachel Reads
  • 09-17-19

Outstanding

Great intricate plot with loads of historical context, it has given me an interest in the period that I would like to pursue.
as always this narrator always delivers as far as pace and gravitas to the scenes.
Great book!

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  • Deborah C
  • 09-06-19

A wonderful historical novel and narration

I absolutely love this book the story is wonderfully narrated by Alex Wyndham and as always he brings the characters written by Stella Riley to life. I highly recommend this book and audible and look forward to the next.
Deborah C

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  • Yildiz
  • 08-18-19

An Outstanding Success

I read this book when it was first released and thoroughly enjoyed it. So when I saw it was now available on Audible I bought it on the expectation that it would once again give me enjoyment.
How pleased am I!
This did not only give me enjoyment it has sent me to a higher level I never thought possible.
It is without doubt outstanding.
The dynamic duo of Stella Riley and Alex Wyndham has once again produced another success with this the first of her Roundheads & Cavaliers novel series, ‘The Black Madonna.’
What a treat from such a talented pair. They complement each other so well; Stella Riley’s superb ability to write excellent characters and a complex storyline and Alex Wyndham’s mastery of voices and interpretation. His ability to transition from male to female, old or young supported by his smooth as velvet narrators voice is simply wonderful.
I really cannot praise this audio book highly enough but what I will say is that if you want a real treat listen to ‘The Black Madonna’ it’s ‘An Outstanding Success.’

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  • A Librarian from Devon
  • 08-16-19

An all-round wonderful experience

This is my all-time favourite novel. It has every ingredient that makes a perfect historical romance: a detailed and vibrant historical setting; engrossing plotlines; pitch perfect characterisation; lively, witty dialogue and a deliciously seductive love story at its heart.

The novel is set during the time leading up to and during the first English Civil war in the 1640s. It is almost as if the war itself is a plot strand as the author weaves the timeline of the war into Luciano and Kate’s story. The rich history of the time is depicted with a sure and light touch which makes it easily accessible for the reader/listener. We learn how the war came about, how the country was split family by family into supporters for the King or for parliament and how the war progressed battle by battle. We see the opulence of King Charles I’s court; the power struggles within parliament and between parliament and the King; the rise of puritanism; the siege of Banbury and the fall of Basing House. As with all good historical novels, it made me want to research more into this fascinating period in England’s life. This exquisite balance between the historical backdrop and the fictional story raises this novel above others in the historical fiction genre.

The main plotline, however, is Luciano’s quest to avenge his father’s murder. He is like a detective in a crime novel as he single-mindedly unravels the mystery surrounding his father’s trial and execution. His position as a moneylender enables him to mix with all levels of society and his quest takes him all over Britain. When Richard Maxwell saves Luciano from a beating, Richard becomes one of Luciano’s very few friends.

This friendship brings Luciano into more regular contact with Richard’s daughter, Kate and so begins their intricate, convoluted and wholly entrancing courtship. It is a cross between a medieval court dance and a fencing match fought by two highly skilled opponents. There are advances and retreats, thrust and parry, point and counterpoint until they both yield to their deepest feelings. Their verbal sparring is glorious.

Ms Riley is a very talented author. In addition to bringing history to life, her major strengths are in characterisation and dialogue. In Luciano and Kate, we have two wonderful characters who fairly dance off the page. Their physical description is so detailed that we can visualise them clearly, but it is our access to their thoughts and feelings that breathes life into them. We can see how and why Kate is attracted to Luciano with his maddening omniscience and elusiveness. We watch the development of Kate’s thinking skills as she wrestles with her attraction and tries to fathom Luciano’s character and motivation. Like Kate, we fall headlong in love with Luciano but also feel both aversion and sympathy for him as he follows his self-imposed quest with ruthlessness, courage and a curiously weak stomach.

This is such a rich novel. The cast of supporting characters are all equally well defined. I particularly love Eden Maxwell (see Garland of Straw, the King’s Falcon and Lords of Misrule for more of his story – they are all excellent). I also enjoyed Dorothy and Richard Maxwell; Tobias and Tabitha Maxwell, Giannetta del Santi and Justin Ambrose (see A Splendid Defiance for his story).

Though I have read The Black Madonna many times, I really loved this audiobook. It is narrated by the excellent Alex Wyndham whose finely nuanced performances of other novels I have also enjoyed. He has a good range of voices which made it easy to differentiate between the characters. His portrayal of the female characters is especially good. I liked his pacing and tone during the descriptive passages and really enjoyed his delivery of the dialogue. His understanding of the historical background, the characters and their roles within the story shines through his narration and therefore clarifies and enriches them for the listener. Each re-reading of a good book will provide new insights. This was certainly the case for me with Mr Wyndham’s reading of The Black Madonna. What an excellent performance of a truly wonderful story!