Saturday, June 1, 2013

Book Review: My Enemy, the Queen by Victoria Holt

NOTE: Because "Victoria Holt" was just another pen-name of Jean Plaidy's, I have tagged this book review under the author "Jean Plaidy" for my convenience. -- KC

It was Lettice who married the Earl of Leicester, whom Elizabeth I loved. And it was Lettice who was the mother of the Queen's beloved Earl of Essex. That young earl would one day break the Queen's heart. 

It was always Lettice, the constant spoiler in the triangle of love surrounding Elizabeth...

Most people familiar with the Tudors will know that Elizabeth was in love with Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, her whole life and died with his last letter close. Most will also know that Anne Boleyn was her mother, and it was her cousin, Lettice Knollys, the daughter of Anne Boleyn's niece, who 'stole' married this great love of hers. I've always been endeared by Elizabeth's forbidden love with Leicester and so by proxy, was never a fan of the star of this book -- no other than Lettice Knollys.

Robert Dudley had his eye on the crown for years, but even when his wife died and he was free to marry Elizabeth, for the security of her throne and the peace of her realm, she had to spurn him and broke her own heart in doing so. It was Lettice, essentially a younger version of Elizabeth with the same dark eyes and red hair, who he found solace in, and it was Lettice who he married in secret when it became clear that Elizabeth would not. The queen forgave him but she never did, her Boleyn cousin. In the background of the main story of romance, jealousy, ambition and fruitless seduction are the politics of Elizabeth's reign unto nearly her death, a couple of years after she had to order the execution of Robert Dudley's son, a favorite who she adored like something between son and lover.

"My Enemy, the Queen" is thrilling and suspenseful in a way no other Tudor novel is. It explores an uncharted topic -- the rivalry between Elizabeth and her beautiful Boleyn cousin -- but also a romance and a historical profile (Lettice Knollys) that novelists favoring Elizabeth I so love to malign. While highly enjoyable and highly recommended, "My Enemy the Queen" had its faults, including an awkward lovemaking scene which made very little sense to me -- falling into a closet that is conveniently in the ballroom, really? -- and a poor ending for Robert and Lettice. While these two share enjoyable romantic moments, he is portrayed as (spoiler) trying to poison Lettice, holding true to propaganda of his day which was, well, plainly propaganda -- lies. That was disappointing. He is also portrayed as, for the most part, pursuing Lettice as a second choice, when, as much as I hate to admit it, it is likely that he felt some affection for her given that he risked his royal favor to marry a woman Elizabeth was notorious for disliking.

"My Enemy" was one of Victoria Holt's (aka Jean Plaidy) last novels, and was a great way to close out a brilliant career. The writing style is a bit more modern, different in that sense from a lot of her older pieces, but in exploring psychological factors and building dramatic and full-blooded plot, she holds true to her usual style, which is timeless genius.

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