Friday, March 15, 2013

Book Review: The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir

Even at age two, Elizabeth is keenly aware that people in the court of her father, King Henry VIII, have stopped referring to her as “Lady Princess” and now call her “the Lady Elizabeth.” Before she is three, she learns of the tragic fate that has befallen her mother, the enigmatic and seductive Anne Boleyn, and that she herself has been declared illegitimate, an injustice that will haunt her.

What comes next is a succession of stepmothers, bringing with them glimpses of love, fleeting security, tempestuous conflict, and tragedy. The death of her father puts the teenage Elizabeth in greater peril, leaving her at the mercy of ambitious and unscrupulous men. Like her mother two decades earlier she is imprisoned in the Tower of London–and fears she will also meet her mother’s grisly end. Power-driven politics, private scandal and public gossip, a disputed succession, and the grievous example of her sister, “Bloody” Queen Mary, all cement Elizabeth’s resolve in matters of statecraft and love, and set the stage for her transformation into the iconic Virgin Queen.

The only reading I've ever done on Elizabeth's childhood, before this, was a short YA fictional diary of hers by Kathryn Lasky, which I did not find particularly enjoyable. Other bits I had picked up about her early years were simply from endings and afterwords from books of Anne Boleyn. Elizabeth has always been a curious figure to me, and so it was with great pleasure that I checked out historian Alison Weir's second Tudor novel from my library, and what a delightful reading experience "The Lady Elizabeth" was. Full of every triumph and tribulation from 1536, the year her mother is executed, to 1558, the year she ascends the throne, it makes for a great 'prelude' to novels of her reign as queen.

I was absorbed almost instantly; given how most of the Elizabethan novels I have read are of Anne Boleyn, I have hardly had the chance to experience fictional Tudor England after 1536 -- turns out there was so much left. Weir brings you up close and personal to the troubled childhood of history's most tragic princess; it starts out cute and endearing, with Elizabeth as a toddler, but is able to transition seamlessly into Elizabeth as a teenager, wound up in an intriguing hot mess. Rich with emotion, royal court thrills, and enhanced with sumptuous bites of erotic, archetypal romance, "The Lady Elizabeth" is the oerfect blend of fact and fiction that I've ever read; the author reminds you that whilst she's a talented novelist and story-teller, her field is history, using letters and records to create and dramatize the majority of dialogues. If only textbooks were written this way, students everywhere would ace their history classes. Definitely a novel worth reading, and one I would recommend to anyone. It's a reading experience as educational as an Eric Ives biography, and yet as fun, flavorful, and exciting as a Philippa Gregory novel.

Pages: 473
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Year Published: 2008
Kylie's Rating: ♛♛♛♛♛/♛♛♛♛♛ (5/5 Stars)

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