1553. Goldhanger, Essex. Tudor England is on the precipice of change, with young King Edward on his deathbed and the religious fate of the country hanging in the balance. But far from power, in the wilds of the Essex marshes, fifteen-year-old Dela meets Turnspit, a scruffy and morose dog sentenced to a life of drudgery turning a kitchen spit. When Dela’s strange bond with animals has her branded a witch by the locals she has to run for her life, with only the turnspit dog for a friend. She manages to find sanctuary at the palace of Princess Mary, but these are dangerous times, with the succession uncertain. Traumatised at first, in an alien world of spies and courtiers, Dela is befriended by a trio of acrobats and players. But one of them, Fitz, holds a terrible secret that promises to tear her fragile world apart.
A breed that became extinct in the mid-nineteenth century, the dog was bred as a kitchen slave, doomed to walk a wheel-like cage mounted high on the wall, attached to the roasting spit by a chain. Characteristics of the breed were short, bowed, and highly muscular front legs, as well as a notoriously bad temper caused by hellishly hot work and the harshest of training, including having burning coals thrown at its feet to make it walk faster. By the time every inn and manor kitchen had its own mechanised spit the breed died out – no one fancied having such an ugly and grumpy dog as a pet. What they didn’t know is that the turnspit dog, if only it had been given its freedom, would have made the most loyal and noble friend.