The Reversible Mask by Loretta Goldberg

The Reversible Mask Cover

The Reversible Mask starts is all about the Spanish Armada, which refers to both the Spanish Fleet that was supposed to meet up with a Dutch fleet and overthrow Elizabeth I, and has come to refer to the two battles that led to the Spanish defeat in 1588. Until I read Loretta Goldberg’s book, my association with the Spanish Armada was the vague  awareness knowledge that Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote, had something to do with it (he was a purchaser for the Spanish Royal Navy at the time they outfitted the Armada). 

Edward Latham has a life as colorful as that of Cervantes, but Latham is not a historical figure. He’s loosely based on the various different accounts about  Sir Anthony Standen ( born ? in Surrey, d. 1615). Goldberg has made an in-depth study of the various conflicting accounts surrounding Standen’s career: “Standen’s actions and motives are sketchy; they can support opposing characterizations,” says Goldberg. “He’s [variously described] as a shady agent,  as a man whose loyalty was for sale,  as a conflicted moderate dedicated to both faith and country, and as a fantasist, tripped up by episodic indiscretions.” (Golberg, personal communication).

Goldberg has made sense of Standen’s conflicting legacy the best way possible: by re-constructing him as a character and weaving him tightly into the knotted tapestry of events that led to the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Latham, like Standen, gets the plans, which is a huge part of the Armada’s defeat. But Goldberg isn’t satisfied with just that. The Reversible Mask is about everything that led up to that watershed historical moment. It’s about a time where to be Catholic or to be Protestant was as big of a divide as to be “Red” or “Blue” in the US today. No dialogue or cooperation was possible. 

Latham starts out a true-blue Catholic. His personal fervor leads him to make a political decision: he will not serve Elizabeth, a Protestant monarch, even though she has knighted him. He abandons his position at court and his heritage and defects to Mary, Queen of Scots. From there he becomes an agent for the Spanish Crown.

The book has some amazing battle sequences, especially the battle of St. Ghislain.

The descriptions of fire boats (boats loaded with gunpowder and sailed into naval battles, then blown up) and flyboats (fast freshwater ships adapted for naval warfare) give the reader a better understanding of the Armada battle tactics.

Latham has an adventurous life, but not really a happy one. He enjoys love, or some approximation of it, wherever he can find it. It’s ironic, given Latham’s conflict between religion and patriotism, that his happiest interlude takes place when he is working in Constantinople and living among Muslims, in a country where Catholicism is only grudgingly allowed to function.  There is a real love story in the book, but that is between Latham’s autistic manservant and fellow spy and a the daughter of an innkeeper. 

It is not until Latham sees what his extended family has suffered for years that he realizes something has to change. The personal and the political in his life have to be put into a new balance. Does that realization lead him to give up spying? 

Never. Goldberg is hard at work on a sequel. She promises Latham and his romantic manservant will return, along with new characters.

The Reversible Mask has a slow start, but then gets thrilling. I found the scenes where Latham de-crypted coded messages the most interesting, but sometimes found that process was given short shrift and Latham seemed to find the encryption key rather easily. But the novel steadily builds toward the final history-making event that was the Spanish Armada, and event poorly understood by most of us today but one that holds many parallels to today’s conflicts.


You can hear the author reading from the opening of her work here.

And a fight scene here.


  •  “This is a glorious novel! Rich in detail and atmosphere, jewel-like in its creation of Elizabethan England, it’s the best kind of historical fiction, transporting readers to a captivating time and place and story. Goldberg does a magnificent job of conveying the intrigue, passion and sometimes sheer sumptuousness of Elizabeth I’s  court and politics. I loved it.” Jeanne Mackin, award winning author of fiction and non-fiction. (The Beautiful American; forthcoming A Lady of Good Family; Dreams of Empire; The Queen’s War; The Sweet By and By; and The Frenchwoman. Penguin, St. Martin’s Press.)
  •  “Goldberg has created a richly detailed world, brought to life with a brilliant cast of engaging characters. The Reversible Mask is a true delight.” Adrienne Dillard. (Cor Rotto, A Novel of Catherine Carey, Catherine Carey: History in a Nutshell Series; Raven’s Widow. MadeGlobal Publishing.)



Loretta Goldberg Author foto
Loretta Goldberg


An Australian-American, I earned a BA in English Literature, Musicology and History at the University of Melbourne, Australia. After teaching English Literature at the Department of English for a year, I risked all, coming to the USA on a Fulbright scholarship to study piano with Claudio Arrau. My discography consists of nine commercial recordings, now in over seven hundred libraries. I was lucky to premier an unknown work by Franz Liszt on an EMI HMV (Australian Division) album, and my edition of the score for G. Schirmer is in its third edition. Concurrently, I built a financial services practice, which I sold recently to focus on writing. My published non-fiction pieces consist of articles on financial planning, arts reviews and political satire. I earned an MA (music performance) from Hunter College, New York; and a Chartered Life Underwriter degree from the American College, Pennsylvania. Member of the Historical Novel Society, New York Chapter, I started and run their published writer public reading series at the landmark Jefferson Market Library.


This blog is part of a tour organized by the International Thriller Writer's Association FEARLESS BLOGGER tour. The Fearless Bloggers were created by Alison McMahan to help new thriller writers who were members of ITW promote their work. Blogs are written about new thrillers by thriller writers. All work is done on a volunteer basis. Other blogs in this tour include: