Once a young princess who thought she would never sit on the throne of England, Elizabeth has just celebrated the 30th year of her glorious reign. It is now on the cusp of a new century that the formidable Queen will face the most daunting challenges of her rule. Philip of Spain has sailed with his Armada determined to bring England back to Catholicism, her most trusted counselors and advisers are dying one by one, the Irish are in full rebellion and seemingly unable to be tamed. Her biggest threat however lies with the new generation of courtiers, specifically the dashing Earl of Essex-Robert Devereaux who seeks to rule Elizabeth and through her England.
Elizabeth is revered by her subjects but there is one woman who sees through the power of the throne to the woman underneath-Lettice Knollys, Elizabeth's redheaded cousin and mother to the Earl of Essex, banished from court for daring to marry Robert Dudley-the one great love of Elizabeth's life. Alternating narratives between the Queen and her cast off Cousin, the last 15 tumultuous years of the reign of Elizabeth I plays out.
Admittedly, I was very excited when asked to review this book because it combines two of my very favorite things in the historical fiction universe-Elizabeth I and Margaret George who can always be relied on to give a sweeping, historically detailed epic of her subject. I was not disappointed here one bit. I have read many interpretations of the story of the legendary Queen Elizabeth I and was pleasantly surprised to discover that this one does not focus on her entire reign but only the last 15 years which allowed me to discover a whole new Elizabeth. With other books we usually see the proud young girl fighting her way to throne and playing the courtly game. Here we see an aging Queen-able to draw on the wisdom of her years on the throne but facing the uncertainty that comes when those she loves and trusts die to be replaced by a whole new breed of courtier. Her world is changing and the way her subjects view her is changing. As Elizabeth says in the novel, it is human nature for people to look to the rising sun not the setting sun-and the setting sun is what she is as she nears the end of her rule. I loved that Margaret George opened Elizabeth up in such a way to let the reader view her worries and insecurities.
I also liked that the story also told the side of Lettice Knollys. Through her we see a whole different side of Elizabeth-proud, vindictive and vain, completely unwilling to be bested by anyone or anything-including Lettice's son Robert. George includes love affairs between Lettice and some of the best known men of the time including Will Shakespeare whom I'd never quite seen portrayed as he was in this book but it was fun.
The one issue readers may have here is the daunting size of the book (688 pages) and being overwhelmed by the amount of details. I have read (and LOVED) 2 other novels by Margaret George-The Autobiography of Henry VIII and Mary Queen of Scots and the Isles. Her books are not fluff reads that you breeze through over the weekend. They are the books you pick up if you want to know every single thing there is to know about the historical figure you are reading about. Hers are books I would recommend reading on a long vacation or over a week or two, so be forewarned-if you are looking for historical fiction lite about Elizabeth I-this is not it. However, if you are willing to make the time investment you will be rewarded here.
This book was released on 5 April and is available here.
This book was received via Pump Up Your Book in exchange for an honest review.