March 30, 2011

Book Review: Elizabeth I: A Novel by Margaret George

Previously posted on The Burton Review:

Elizabeth I: A Novel by Margaret George
Hardcover: 688 pages
Publisher: Viking Adult (April 5, 2011)
ISBN-13: 978-0670022533
Review copy provided by the publisher, with many thanks!!
The Burton Review Rating:Five Gorgeous Stars!

Margaret George is one of those iconic historical fiction authors that even if you have not read her books, you have heard of her. I have been collecting her books but have not been able to read them as they look so daunting in size. This year, fans are treated to another tome by Margaret George as she brings us a novel on Elizabeth I. This is not your ordinary Elizabeth I novel for two reasons: 1. It is written by Margaret George. 2. It begins in 1588, when Elizabeth is fifty-five and about to face the Spanish Armada.

I was ecstatic when I realized this was not another rehash of Elizabeth's life from Thomas Seymour's pats on her butt to her struggles during her sister's Mary's reign, though it does cover the rise and fall of the Earl of Essex in detail. I was then overly ecstatic when I realized that this novel also features Lettice Knollys, whom Elizabeth liked to call the she-wolf. My Enemy The Queen by Victoria Holt was one of my favorite Tudor reads and I loved Lettice as she tried to out-maneuver Elizabeth every chance she got. The rivalry was heightened when Lettice married Elizabeth's favorite, Robert Dudley the Earl of Leicester.

Elizabeth I: A Novel read very much like the Dickens' favorite A Christmas Carol. We see through the aged Elizabeth's eyes the ghosts of the past from her parents to her favorites who flit in and out of her consciousness; the present with the younger courtiers who no longer have anything of value to Elizabeth except their looks; the future of England because of course this Virgin Queen left no heir for England. The decisions of the past and the present and how they affect the future of England are also an underlying theme for Elizabeth as she struggles to maintain her hold on the country that she married for richer or for poorer. The Spanish Armada was always a threat, and even though she was able to defeat it in 1589, by the time Spain had rebuilt its forces to strike again, Elizabeth's most trusted advisors and the strongest fighters and nobles had withered away.

Elizabeth hated most of all Lettice Knollys, who had secretly married Elizabeth's perhaps one true love Robert Dudley. Lettice was like Elizabeth in many ways as far as stubbornness and force of will, but promiscuous Lettice lacked the self-control of the Virgin Queen. Lettice was also the mother of Elizabeth's next favorite after Robert Dudley, the Earl of Essex Robert Devereux. In and out of this story of Elizabeth we are treated to chapters devoted to Lettice, as she struggles in vain to regain all that she has lost since Robert Dudley's death. Her one shining hope remains with her son the Earl of Essex, as he hopes for favors from Elizabeth I to help sustain his family. Robert Devereux is headstrong and unruly, and both Lettice and Elizabeth had difficulty with restraining Robert's self-destruction, and this spiral of love and hate between the Queen and Essex became interwoven into the novel as a major theme.

There were many names and titles, and a few Roberts as Robert Cecil is also featured here. There were even surprising occurrences behind closed doors, including the famous Will Shakespeare. The cousins descended from the Boleyn family are a strong part as the old loyal favorites of Elizabeth who always stayed loyal. And yet there were always some who were tired of Elizabeth's Protestant ways as more religious strife occurred with both Catholics and Puritans. The crisis in Ireland and the years of crop failure are another focus as Elizabethans struggled to maintain the Golden Age. The wax and wane of Elizabeth's reign is well known to Tudor fans, but I have not read any novels that actually spotlight their entire work on the wane of Elizabeth's life such as Margaret George's does here. Names of courtiers are weaved in and out of the story like our own old friends, so that those readers familiar with the Tudor era will feel right at home without getting another monologue of the backstory of each person. It is only for that reason that newbies to the Elizabethan era may find themselves lost in the vague comings and goings of the important people of Elizabeth's time, but as a lover of Tudor fiction I appreciated it as the minute details are lightly touched upon as a refresher.

The first person point of view of Elizabeth (and intermittently Lettice) seemed spot on.. the face on the outside to her subjects being different than the thoughts swirling in her head; slightly sarcastic and witty in her aging years even though she seemed a bit shocked that she was as old as she was. The magnificence of this tome is the way that George encompasses the era, without leaving out the other minor and major players of the court. This novel is by far the most human look at Elizabeth that I've ever read as the author brings Elizabeth to grips with her legacy that includes her executed mother and her tyrant father. I especially loved the secret garden scene at Hever Castle.

 This is a very detailed book and even though it is fiction I felt like I was being educated during the read. I loved this look at the last decade of Elizabeth's reign, and admired the amount of facts and the imagery that were blended throughout the story. This is the epitome of a well-researched book, and since it was enjoyed on so many levels it would be remiss if you did not include this latest Elizabeth I novel on your Tudor bookshelf. Elizabeth I: A Novel is an absolute must read for Elizabeth I fans, as this novel is a fitting tribute to the woman and Virgin Queen that seemed to outwit many of her enemies and always made sure she was above reproach. This one is certainly going on my Favorites of 2011 post.

Other pieces that I recommend that deal with the fall of Essex and his relationship with Elizabeth are Elizabeth & Essex: A Tragic History by Lytton Strachey and  The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, a 1939 movie featuring Bette Davis. Also, I have yet to read The Walsingham Woman, by Jan Westcott, about Frances Walsingham married to Phillip Sidney first then the Earl of Essex. Frances is mentioned a lot in George's novel which is why I include Westcott's here. And as mentioned before, there is Victoria Holt's My Enemy the Queen which I loved. 

I am also beyond excited to be able to see Margaret George speak for the Arts & Letters Lectures held at the Dallas Museum as part of her book tour for Elizabeth I. You can buy tickets via the museum if you want to hear her speak and get your book signed. I hope to see you there, or you can visit this link to see if she will be coming to a town near you!

March 22, 2011

Book Review: The Raven Queen by Jules Watson

This review is a cross post from The True Book Addict blog.

The Raven Queen by Jules Watson
finished reading on March 11, 2011

My thoughts:
Epic...this is the word I choose to describe Jules Watson's new novel.  Jules takes the legendary Irish queen, Maeve, and weaves a tale around her reminiscent of other legends like Beowulf or Queen Boudicca.  I was drawn to Maeve like no other.  I love strong female characters and stories built around them and this is definitely Maeve's story.  Maeve, and really all the characters, are so richly drawn, I almost felt part of the story.  And the magical side of Erin, the four kingdoms--the Sidhe (Shee), the fairy folk or Otherworld beings--is so intricate and mystical.  Not since The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley have I been so entranced by this side of a story.  Set in 100 BC, the story tells us that strong female leaders have been around for a long time, perhaps since the dawn of time.  Maeve fights against insurmountable odds to take over a kingdom and rule as queen in what is most definitely a man's world.  And I cheered for her the entire time.  This is my first reading of a Jules Watson novel and I'm telling you, it will not be my last.  So please excuse me...I must go add all her books to my wish list.  You should do the same.

Book description (from goodreads):
She was born to be a pawn, used to secure her father’s royal hold on his land. She was forced to advance his will through marriage—her own desires always thwarted. But free-spirited Maeve will no longer endure the schemes of her latest husband, Conor, the cunning ruler of Ulster. And when her father’s death puts her homeland at the mercy of its greedy lords and Conor’s forces, Maeve knows she must at last come into her own power to save it.

With secret skill and daring, Maeve proves herself the equal of any warrior on the battlefield. With intelligence and stealth, she learns the strategies—and sacrifices—of ruling a kingdom through treacherous alliances. And to draw on the dangerous magic of her country’s oldest gods, Maeve seeks out the wandering druid Ruan, whose unexpected passion and strange connection to the worlds of spirit imperil everything Maeve thought true about herself—and put her at war with both her duty and her fate.

About the author (from goodreads):
Jules Watson was born in Australia to English parents. She came to fiction via archaeology and public relations, working most recently as a freelance writer in England. She and her Scottish husband divide their time between the United Kingdom and Australia.

To read more about Jules and her works, visit her website HERE

To view the entire tour schedule, visit Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

This book was sent to me for participation in a virtual book tour.  This review is my honest opinion and I was not monetarily compensated for providing it.