Book Jacket


rank  Editors Pick
word count 20809
date submitted 19.05.2010
date updated 26.10.2011
genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Histor...
classification: universal

The Harpist of Madrid

Gordon L. Thomas

How can a 17th century Spanish harpist and composer become a spy? By saving the Inquisitor General, right in front of the King.


This is a biographical novel about Juan Hidalgo, a famous Spanish 17th century composer. It is written in the first person, as if Juan is telling the tale. He is from a musical family. His father and his school music teacher encourage him to become a harpist and to write music.

From a humble start, working in the palace, Juan becomes one of King Philip IV’s favourites. The King appoints him as a ‘special agent’, along with Diego Velázquez, the Royal portrait painter. So Juan becomes a spy.

Diego introduces Juan to Francisca. They fall in love and marry. Just after their son is born, Juan’s life is disrupted. The King sends Juan on a mission to the Vatican.

Can a few musicians and a painter rescue Spain from bankruptcy? Will Spanish audiences take to opera?

rate the book

to rate this book please Register or Login



, 17th century, biographical, biography, family, family life, love, madrid, music, opera, spain, spies

on 172 watchlists



To leave comments on this or any book please Register or Login

subscribe to comments for this book
HarperCollins Wrote

THE HARPEST OF MADRID is an historical novel about the figure Juan Hidalgo – a real Spanish composer and harpist, who lived in Spain from 1615-1685 and became one of the most influential Hispanic composers of his time. The novel (I could not say how much is true and how much imagined) charts his early life, his break into the world of theatre and music, his relationships with his family, his marriage and the birth of his children, as well as his relationship with the King who appoints him as a ‘special agent’ along with Diego Velazquez, the famous Spanish painter.

Unfortunately, I found it difficult to engage with this semi-biographical novel. At times it read like a straight biography and I feel that, perhaps, if enough material can be evidenced, it would be better written this way.

The opening scene of the novel is shocking for the time in which it occurred, and you go some way to conveying the strength of the audience reaction to witnessing a woman standing naked on the stage at the end of a play. However, by the end of the first couple of pages, I still had not gained much of a sense of Juan Hidalgo’s character, before you launch very quickly into a long and very detailed account of his childhood. At this point, I did not have enough of an interest in Juan or knowledge of his later life to care about his early one. The town in which he lives, the scenery, the people are all described to the reader rather than being voiced by the character or revealed through the story. I did not feel I was seeing through his eyes or sharing his experiences with him - the tone at times is reminiscent of a guidebook or an historical text explaining the layout and life of a market town.

There is no doubt that Juan Hidalgo had an interesting life, and many of the anecdotes and scenes are individually funny and unique. The description of his mother is well-executed, as it gives an insight into her motivations and a feeling of knowing her. Similarly, the story of Juan entering the farm labourer’s house is emotive and insightful into his political leanings. However, other stories and descriptions were not as insightful and coming one after the other, in a straight timeline from childhood to adulthood, they are not enough to draw the reader in.

For a novel like this to grab the attention of a reader, I think that you may have to play around with timelines more and build excitement so that we come into his life at different points and spend longer there to build up a picture of the adult, which in turn may develop a curiosity about the childhood experiences that made him that way. Unfortunately, Juan Hidalgo is not a famous enough figure for most readers to have an interest before they start the novel, so interest has to be built rather than assumed. Through the writing, we need to be able to share the experiences he has rather than have them explained to us.

Given some of the anecdotes and comical situations, this novel could grow into something closer to a work by Louis de Berniere, but the characters need to be richer and the excitement needs to be increased for it to be compared to that type of novel. I feel that the style of writing is more suited to a straight biography of this man, which could lead to heightened interest in his life and perhaps one day even a film along the lines of Mozart or other biographical films of that nature. However, interest in Hidalgo may have to be aroused in the general public first for this to be commercially viable.

Semper Write wrote 1333 days ago

I immediately knew I would like the story because I'm a big fan of historical fiction like the Tudors, Rome and et al. But then you launched me into a scene which was so perfectly described, so beautiful and full of action and "bathed" with embarrassment, and lust, and whispering with a king sickly dazed and the little smiles between married couples. WOW!!! WOW WOW WOW!!! I LOVE THIS!!

At first, I was thinking to myself..."Oh here we go again. I'm going to go look at this guy's book." But what a fantastic surprise!! And I love surprises.

You, Gordon, DESERVE to be published as soon as possible. Hello Harper? It would be my pleasure to place this book on my shelf. And I plan on reading this book all the way through this week.

Great Job!

Author of The Dream Tide
Runner's Gold

zan wrote 1424 days ago

The Harpist of Madrid
Gordon L. Thomas

Your pitches were effective in creating interest in this piece and I was happy to give it a spin on my shelf. I thought you had a lovely mix of characters and themes and issues to cover ranging from music, art, espionage, romance, royalty, history and more - looks like a complex, rousing tale of the times in17th century Spain. Juan Hidalgo, harpist and member of the Inquisition seems like a reliable narrator. The first chapter is rich and colourful. Quite a few names to get used to in the beginning but it all makes for a good complex plot. Really an excellent read so far - enviable writing skills. All the best for its future success Gordon.

made wrote 555 days ago

Dear author you have blown. My mind to pieces a wonderful story well done

Kit Masters wrote 766 days ago


Very impressed by the first two chapters of this novel, you have a clear style of prose and structure of narrative.

I have often thought about trying to write historical fiction but the amount of research that you would have to do has always stopped me.

Can you tell us how you researched this?

I think Harper Collin's points are quite valid, perhaps an opening prologue which lets us know why we should be so interested in Juan Hidalgo, or a closer focus on Diego Velasquez might go some way to achieving the commercial viability they stress.

I think that you may wish to look a little closer at the mind set and language types of a medieval, (Spain is practically Medieval at this point I believe,) Spanish person would talk and write.

For instance in the opening chapter they come to an agreement as if they were a formal committee, I'm not sure this would be a prominent part of the mind set of someone who's experience of decision making will be purely feudal.

Congratulations on a work well worth pursuing, a story of promise.



Brian Howell wrote 905 days ago

Hi Gordon

It was a pleasure to read this. I haven't been here long but it's definitely the best writing I have read so far. The subject matter already appeals to me, but I wasn't disappointed. I do have a few reservations but on the positives first, the beginning scene and the very last section are very well done and prefectly positioned, and the concept as presented in this first part augurs well. I think I like your description better than your dialogue, on the whole. The dialogue is a bit too on the nose for me, but I think that it could be easily remedied. I'd much rather it was this way round than the other, though. I really love the idea that one of the players is a member of the Inquisition and that we then learn that his is writing this. Brilliant, simple device. A couple of typos or omissions. (1.) 'nymph of Diana' doesn't sound quite right. 'One of Diana's nymphs' (?). 2. (At) least ten minutes. (3) 'quiettened' = 'quietened'. (4.) 'accidental blend of stale beer and urine' - the 'accidental' seems unnecessary. I'm looking forward to reading the HC review. Congrats on getting so far. I hope I can come back to this. As my own book deals with a similar area, except in Holland and England in the early 1600s, I hope you don't mind my mentioning it. Best, Brian.

Black Crow wrote 907 days ago

Why have HC spelled the name of your book incorrectly?

Quenntis wrote 1023 days ago

I've enjoyed having you on my shelf and must admit to dip-reading your book. The novel is episodic in structure - giving the reader breathing space between incidents. The opening scandal of the impromptu nude scene set the tone of the piece - ie "anything can happen" and really created some nice tension which you explored throughout your writing. Nicely done and a well-deserved journey to the ed's desk.


eddie mccann wrote 1031 days ago

Dear Gordon,

The only other historical novel I've read was 'Twilite Of A Tudor' by Ursula Bloom so you're mixing in good company. By your own admission 'The Harpist' is your first novel, and the fact I've read it speaks for itself. It is articulate and impressive. Looking forward to your next.


strachan gordon wrote 1037 days ago

Hello Gordon,congratulations on your success,of the books I,ve read on this site its the one that that most appeals.I wonder if you could return the favour and read my now uploaded book 'A Buccaneer' - the first two chapters at least,its an historical adventure/romance with Pirates,Cambridge University,French and Spanish Ladies,boots of Spanish Leather,Sir Henry morgan 1671,the Great Plague and much more hope you enjoy it,Strachan Gordon

strachan gordon wrote 1037 days ago

Hello Gordon,congratulations on your success,of the books I,ve read on this site its the one that that most appeals.I wonder if you could return the favour and read my now uploaded book 'A Buccaneer' - the first two chapters at least,its an historical adventure/romance with Pirates,Cambridge University,French and Spanish Ladies,boots of Spanish Leather,Sir Henry morgan 1671,the Great Plague and much more hope you enjoy it,Strachan Gordon

Campbel22 wrote 1045 days ago

Its a great historical fiction,; readers will like.

sweet honey wrote 1057 days ago

'The Harpist of Madrid' is a delight to read. The story unfolds beautifully, seemingly without effort, the language is simple and yet effective. You just want to keep reading! For that it gets my backing. I would love to see this book published. I for one would buy it, and possibly get it autographed.

njrogers wrote 1059 days ago


Magnificent. You do what all good historical fiction writers should - bring a distant time and place to life. Your passion for and knowledge of 17th century Spain shines out from every page. A true achievement.

My one criticism is that it might be a shade long... As I understand it, publishers are less likely to consider very lengthy debut novels. However, if, as seems likely, you are still on the Editor's desk in a little over a day, I have no doubt Harpers will give you very strong consideration.

Delighted to back this work.



Author of The Blood and the Fog

monicque wrote 1059 days ago

About half way through , you have the word 'dissapointedly'. I didn't like it. other than that, your work is very good, you have an appealing style. The book must have taken a long time to write!!!
I would appreciate you looking at my book... after the 31st if you like!! So, if you book does not make it to the editors desk this month, is it still in the running for next month?

monicque wrote 1059 days ago

Hi Gordon. I didn't like the word 'delicately' in the first paragraph.
Um, yeah, it was great! Interesting reading. The third bit "By the time I arrived home... etc" was a little confusing at first. It's strange to have the narrator kind of break into the book like that. But all in all I liked it!! Great work, very well done, and I hope you get a publishing contract!! :)

KatCannon wrote 1059 days ago

I've read your first three chapters and I really like the way you've structured your story. Great job of grabbing your audience and drawing them in. The stark details and scenes you depict bring the harsh realities right into your readers' faces.

I do think your writing could benefit by paying a little more attention to your voicing. You use a fair amount of passive voice instead of more active verbs. I would find your pacing a little more interesting and lively in the active voice and I don't think it would be difficult to adjust your phrasing. The dialogue of your characters is spot's the narrative in between that I'm referring to. You've got a good level for detail and pacing...I just think you could be even more fascinating in the active voice.

Blessings to you and I look forward to seeing where your writing ends up!

Venenum wrote 1059 days ago

As a fan of historical fiction, you really drew me in with your style and talent. "The Harpist of Madrid" is a fresh story with greatly developed characters and impressive scenery as you can tell the writer put in hard work to do research on Juan Hidalgo and the world surrounding him. Your writing voice is strong and confident, not inauthentic or phoned in, and this book is magnificent. I can see why you're on your way to the Editor's Desk. Splendid work, Gordon.


Chameleon8408 wrote 1059 days ago

So I read the first two chapters and I must say your writing style is spot on and the readability of this work is fantastic. I don't usually read historical fiction.. That being said I didn't expect the level of detail, as well as the fact that you really begin the story when the main character is very young. I think you did a fantastic job setting the scenes and what not and it seems like you did an extensive amount of research for this. I think it might be overwhelming to know every street name, these kinds of details seemed a touch unnecessary for the progression of the story. I think if you maybe added more spanish to the text it might add that much more to it. Now remember I only read the first two chapters, I added this to my bookshelf nonetheless because the writing quality is excellent, and I hope you can keep your spot on the editors desk! Good luck

drkvbailey wrote 1060 days ago

Backing the book is easy because the writing is very good... Where did you get the cover image?


elina914 wrote 1061 days ago

Gordon --

You are such a hero, I´ve backed your book again. Hope this gives you a little push.
Avanti versaglieri ... Congratulations.

CLASH - A Novel of Extremes

Stone Legend wrote 1062 days ago

Dear Gordon

What an enchanting tale! I was surprised, to say the least, with the rather intriguing opening. You don't dally about do you? You're writing style is not as dramatic as most of these types of novels are written. I personally am a big fan of old dramas, but I think your style of writing still works. It;s very simple, a little dull, but it works so well and I think this type of book will grasp the attention of a wider range of audience, because the style is so simple.

It's so easy to read and so flowing.

I don't know why and I pray this is not insulting. I found myself thinking this to be a comedy. When I went and checked the genre's and realized it wasn't, I was rather surprised. The story seems to lend itself it humor, which is wonderful as well because this will also appeal to a larger audience. I think you have everything in your favor with this book, it's charming, simple yet eloquent and boasts a wonderful story.

Well done, amazingly well done! And very much good luck to you, this book has a lot of potential and I hope to see it published just so I can put it on my real book shelf.

Good luck.

Anne Morgan

JoeDPalermo wrote 1062 days ago


Excellent work. I did have some problems with the names, but I got used to those. I will back this.

Keep smiling

thomshep wrote 1063 days ago

Gordon -- typo in Chapter 3: first of my school friends to "asked" me
I found this when I re-read these opening chapters, mainly to confirm my earlier remarks.
Your prose is impeccable. You have certainly earned your spot in the top 5! I hope I wasn't too harsh on your opening chapter. I mean, it's not bad; it's just that the book really takes off when Juan is at its center.

susanbrauner wrote 1063 days ago

Gordon, I do love your book, backed and six stars, my pleasure!

The Adventures of Sohi: Mystery of Moon Island

Craig Phoenix wrote 1063 days ago

Sorry this didn;t grab, found myself scanning rather than reading. It did not appeal as my sort of book but I have been wrong before so thought I would give it a go. Your writing is excellent, and you words create a vivid picture but this just wasn't for me. I am probably in the minority on that one.

Good luck

Craig Phoenix

thomshep wrote 1063 days ago

I'll be honest. I had some problems with the first chapter. Though you hooked me with that opening scene, I had trouble getting my head around the various characters, especially, ironically, Marfisa, who doesn't seem to quite gel as a person. As for the others in that opening discussion, perhaps you could dab a line of description or physical trait to make each stand out a bit more. I don't mean to say that this chapter is not interesting -- it is! -- but it left me a little frustrated in that it didn't seem rooted somehow, especially for an historical novel about a time period I know nothing about. It left me hungry, and not in a good way.

But then came chapter 2 and chapter 3 and chapter 4!

Everything I've complained about in the opening scenes was righted in the subsequent chapters. Once Juan Hidalgo took center stage, so to speak, this became a different novel for me, and I am enjoying it thoroughly. There is great detail and strong characters and thrilling scenes and chapter 4 had me panting with its erotic encounter. The writing is so good, I will probably go back to chapter 1 and see if I was wrong in my first impression. I do think that your greatest talent lies with narrative, not dialogue, in that I get more swept up in the flow of your prose when Juan is telling his story than when I am listening to the other characters exchange words.
I'll have more to say as I read more, and I certainly will read more!
I wish you the best of the luck with the HarperCollins editors. Despite my reservations about the first chapter, this warrants publication.
Thom Shepard

Gareth brierley wrote 1064 days ago

Great read. Wasn't what I expected at all and I was really surprised. Brilliantly written and can imagine this as a bestseller easily. Will finish more next week,

Sue50 wrote 1064 days ago

Deserves publication! Great Job! I will recommend to my friends. Hope you have a chance to take a look at Dark Side by author CC Brown. Good Luck!

viento wrote 1065 days ago

Read the first five chapters and whilst one could argue that perhaps the speech is too modern, how did 17th C people speak in day to day terms anyway? I don;t think it matters at all as the rest of the writing is evocative of the time. Really enjoyed this; hopefully have time to read more.

If it were pubished, I would certainly buy it and recommend it to others who like the genre too.

gemmat wrote 1065 days ago

Hi, thanks for the read request! i've only read the first couple of chapters and so far so good. Happily backed and i look forward to reading the rest.
The Protectors of Ealinga

JPR wrote 1065 days ago

Best wishes I really hope you make it to the finish line :D

bexy-lou-c wrote 1066 days ago

Hello, thank you for your read request, I am more than happy to support this book!

I thought that the opening chapters of this novel were really fascinating! Your attention to detail is more than admirable! You must have gone to great lengths to research your novel, I have the greatest of respect for you and this book. The detail makes it so believable, I could hardly stop myself from reading on.

A fantastic opening scene, wonderful history and culture and thoughtfully written.

Starred & backed with pleasure.


xavant wrote 1066 days ago

I don't normally read historical fiction but I've read the first three chapters of this and found them impressive. Deeply researched, 17th-century Spain powerfully evoked and the promise of a rich and gripping story unfolding.

I'm sure you want constructive criticism, so here are a few points I noted after a particularly close reading of Chapter One:

You don't need 'shocked' before 'gasp' - 'gasp' says it all.

'is a criminal offence' - an oddly intrusive present tense amid all the pasts.

'Many of the men had never seen a completely naked woman before, not even their wives.' A more logical rendition of this is: 'had never seen a woman completely naked before, not even their wife.' - using the perfectly valid plural possessive of singular object.

I see you are capping Royal throughout, though normal usage would be l.c. Still, not on at this stage to change.

'King, King Charles II'. Should be just 'King, Charles II'.

Don't need 'hand' before 'clapping'.

Don't need 'accidental' before 'blend'. The 'accidental' reads oddly and the phrase is stronger without.

Still, these are minor points that any editor should attend to. So I'm backing the book with five stars and wish you luck in your race to hold your position.


briantodd wrote 1067 days ago

Had another look at this last night/ this morning. It just has so much more to it than most HF reads that I feel compelled to back it again on its final run to the gold medal spot. Please promise to put the critique from HC up Gordon. Us lesser mortals learn a lot from reading these.

Concettah wrote 1067 days ago

Thank you for asking me to read your manuscript. I thoroughly enjoyed chapter 1 an have been pulled into your story. My only question is your single quotes rather than doubles.

I'm looking forward to reading more. I like your first person POV, pace, and the troop of players is very believable in that time period. I will more your book on my shelf as soon as the ones there are done my promised time. I've starred and watchlisted and am hoping this gets reviewed. It's one of the best pieces I've read on Authonomy and something I would definitely buy. Looking forward to your book tour. :)

Nigel Fields wrote 1067 days ago

I have to add that the voice here just sings. This is historical fiction at its best.

TeeJay wrote 1067 days ago

Wonderful story.

Kayla Bengal

colin smith wrote 1067 days ago

I've read the opening chapter which is enough to see that it is interesting and well written, up to a point.

That point, and my only gripe, is the language (both prose and dialogue) is too modern and English for the time and setting. Arguably, for historical fiction to reach a popular audience it needs to be written thus, but personally I would prefer a prose style more Spanish and more of its time.
In your case, the choice of prose style is particularly important since this is a first person narrative direct to the reader and there is no 'writer' intermediary able to impose a separate style: ie, the main character is the story teller in which case his 'voice' should (I feel) reflect that he is both Spanish and living in the 1600s. As it is, your narrative style is that of a contemporary Englishman, complete with (a few too many, in my view) contemporary cliches and phrases. Might I suggest you look at An Instance of The Fingerpost by Iain Pears (setting is Oxford, 1600s) which also has first person historical narratives but adopts a prose style that manages to be both approachable by the modern reader and reflecting its times. This link takes you to the opening pages via Amazon.

Anyway, I have backed it as historical fiction is my thing.

Nigel Fields wrote 1068 days ago

Happy to back this again, and I bumped your rating up from 5 to 6 stars.
John B Campbell (Walk to Paradise Garden)

celestexxmarie wrote 1068 days ago

I'm not usually a reader of historical fiction, but your novel was both well-written and fascinating. Your style is sharp and engaging and I truly enjoyed watching Juan's character develop, as well as his love for Francisca unfold! Best of luck to you.

Hopefully you can now take a look at Mail On Sunday.


Weaver Reads wrote 1068 days ago

Chapter 1: This is an exciting opening to your book, Gordon, and an even more intriguing closing. Already filled with danger, possible consequences, and death? Very good capturing the reader's attention. Will be back to read more!

~ The Governess ~

delly wrote 1068 days ago
wendyjones wrote 1068 days ago

Gordon, hello. This is not my genre of writing really, but I read a little anyway and I have to say I was impressed. I like the style and smooth flow of your work and I wish you all the best with it. I enjoy writing immensly, but I'm afraid I'm a bit of a lazy reader and the effort of reading words that are not immediately understood is too much like hard work for me, but I'm not who it's aimed at and I reckon my husband would love it. Good luck.

Frank Talaber wrote 1068 days ago

I'm not a great fan of historical fiction, but this is extremely well written and a interesting original story line. I gave it a very high rating, lets see how this does.

Emily Lives wrote 1068 days ago

I'd buy this book. It's well-written and fascinating.
Best wishes,

EltopiaAuthor wrote 1069 days ago

Hooked by the very entertaining -- and surprising -- first chapter. Excellent writing IMO.

Software wrote 1069 days ago

Hello Gordon,

Very engaging read. Starred.

All the best,

The Sounds of Silence

Software wrote 1069 days ago

Hello Gordon,

Very engaging read. Starred.

All the best,

The Sounds of Silence

Software wrote 1069 days ago

Hello Gordon,

Very engaging read. Starred.

All the best,

The Sounds of Silence

Software wrote 1069 days ago

Hello Gordon,

Very engaging read. Starred.

All the best,

The Sounds of Silence

Software wrote 1069 days ago

Hello Gordon,

Very engaging read. Starred.

All the best,

The Sounds of Silence

Software wrote 1069 days ago

Hello Gordon,

Very engaging read. Starred.

All the best,

The Sounds of Silence