Genre: Chick Lit, Historical Fiction
Narrative Style: Third Person
Synopsis: Mary Tudor has died and Elizabeth’s position as the new queen of England is precarious. With threats from the French and the Catholic church, she feels there are few people she can trust. When she starts a secret relationship with the already married Robert Dudley, she makes her position even more dangerous as few approve of the match.
Time on shelf: Five years – I inherited this when my mam died. We’d enjoyed reading and recommending Gregory’s other novels so I avoided reading this one when I couldn’t discuss it with her.
I was expecting to enjoy this. I’ve read Gregory before and thought that her novels were intriguing and gave a convincing impression of what life at court was like. Not so with this book.
It wasn’t just the setting that was unconvincing. The characters were flat and impossible to like. Gregory seemed enamoured of Robert Dudley and often mentioned his dark good looks and the ridiculous effect he had on Elizabeth. His ambition and his handsomeness were the only features of his personality so it was hard to see exactly why the queen might love him so much. Elizabeth was frequently reduced to jelly, little more than a quivering mass, by her lust for Dudley. I understand the impulse to make Elizabeth more human but, in this novel, she lost all power and became the the Tudor idea of womanhood, unable to function without her male advisors.
The beginning of the novel plays out like an Elizabethan sex romp. It is like a cross between a Carry On film and a bad porn movie. Not that it is explicit, it’s more that the scenarios feel like something from porn. Elizabeth dresses as a servant so that Dudley can take her in the stables. Out hunting, Dudley drags her from her horse to do it in the leaves. It was all quivering loins and heaving bosoms. It was so unsubtle that it was laughable and it really detracted from the political elements of the story.
It was also hard to have sympathy with Amy, Dudley’s wife. She is portrayed as pathetically in love with Dudley who is somehow so charismatic as to have both these women absolutely besotted with him. She spends most of the novel in a puddle of tears, refusing to grant him a divorce, mooning around like a lovesick schoolgirl. Again, she was little more than a plot device.
Finally, Gregory is taken with the idea the Amy was murdered by Cecil – with the Queen’s approval because she is so incapable of resisting Dudley’s charms and it is the only way to not marry him – as part of a plot to bring Dudley down. Although there were many rumours at the time about Dudley’s involvement, most historians do not think this was the case. And Gregory’s tale does nothing to convince the reader that this might be a possible version of events.