In the court of King James I of England, no one is safe from the whims of the paranoid, jealous, and unpredictable King-not even his children Prince Henry of Wales and daughter Elizabeth. Elizabeth longs for the approval and affection of her father but as she grows into young womanhood she soon comes to realize she serves only one person in her father's eyes-to be used as a pawn in the marriage market to secure his dream of being the Great Peacemaker by using his children to unite the Catholics and Protestants. After being subjected to several humiliating audiences where she is paraded in front of potential suitors Elizabeth becomes determined to make her own destiny instead of waiting around for her father to marry her off and ship her away from her beloved brother and England. Her resolve strengthens when she meets Frederick, the Elector Palatine, the one suitor out of all she thinks she can be happy with. Elizabeth now must figure out how to outwit her father to end up with the man she loves. Her one ally is Tallie, a slave girl bought for Elizabeth by the Queen who yearns for her freedom. The Princess and the slave girl join together in the bond of friendship as both hope to achieve their happy endings.
This is the first book I recall that focuses on one of the Stuarts. The first 100 pages or so introduces us to Elizabeth and her brother Henry and the Gunpowder plot whose aim was to kill James I, kidnap Elizabeth, and put her on the throne in his place. I found this section of the novel to be very slow moving and was having an extremely difficult time getting into the novel at this point. It wasn't until Elizabeth was moved to court and the slave girl Tallie entered the picture that the book picked up. Tallie was a very interesting character-unwilling to reveal her past on the streets of Southwark and completely reluctant to trust Elizabeth. The strong point of the story was watching their friendship grow as Tallie spied on behalf of Elizabeth and became the only person the lonely Princess could rely on to tell her absolutely anything she wanted to know-including what relations between men and women really involved. Tallie provided the spark in this book. You couldn't help but feel sorry for Elizabeth-paraded before insensitive diplomats and boorish suitors while dealing with her insanely jealous father who thought everything was a plot to dethrone him. It was not an enviable relationship. Elizabeth's love story with Frederick and her quest to marry him was fairly well done. They seemed to develop a pretty strong connection to each other rather quickly.
There were several problem areas in this book in addition to the first 1/4 being slowly paced and not really interesting. The main issue for me were the supporting characters. Elizabeth adores her brother Prince Henry but he wasn't really developed all that well. Neither is her mother Anne of Denmark. Other characters seemed off to me. James was portrayed as highly intelligent but also spent much of the book as a drunken lout who was more concerned with fawning over the pretty boys in his court and hunting than ruling. Basically in this version he left all the hard work to Robert Cecil and Francis Bacon who duked it out for power. Although he would be no means win a Mr. Congeniality or father of the year award, there were some redeeming qualities about the man and his reign wasn't entirely bad. This doesn't show here though. James is just the villain here. I had the same problem with Elizabeth's younger brother Charles (later Charles I). He goes from being baby Charles the inconsequential and somewhat slow child to an overindulged brat a few years down the line. I found myself thinking "This kid becomes the future king???).
Overall it was an interesting once it got going and Tallie was introduced but I'm still on the fence as to whether it was good enough to slog through the first hundred pages in order to get to the better parts. Some books if you stick with them long enough end up being exceptional once they pick up the pace. This one was just alright even when it got going. I look forward to reading more on the Stuart family, particularly Elizabeth. I just didn't care for how they were portrayed here.
I received this book from the Library Thing Early Reviewer Program in exchange for an honest review