I had eagerly anticipated this book from the moment I first heard about it. When I heard that Tracy had a copy, there was virtually no stopping me from purchasing it and reading it immediately. While the writing was equally good here as it was in Innocent Traitor, the euphoric reading high I felt while reading Weir’s first novel did not carry forward into her second. The story of Elizabeth I‘s youth leading up to her rise to the English throne feels like well covered territory to me. That which was new or different in this novel wasn’t enough to have me hanging on every last word like before. Perhaps that is the danger of anticipating anything too much.
It’s not that The Lady Elizabeth wasn’t enjoyable. It was never boring. It just was never the captivating novel I was hoping it would be. There was a point fairly early in the novel where a rivalry was building between Kat, Elizabeth’s governess, and the final wife of Henry VIII, Queen Katherine Parr. My mouth almost watered with anticipation when it felt like this was ramping up to something. For me, that build up led no where. Even her encounters with Lord Seymour didn’t capture my imagination the way that they have in The Last Wife of Henry VIII or The Queen’s Fool. In fact, they felt a little flat and forced. I’m not sure if this is because I’ve already read about some of these scenes before or if it is because they were better seen through the eyes of other characters.
The most enjoyable aspect of this novel for me was Weir’s exploration of the father-daughter relationship between Henry and Elizabeth. How strange it must have been for him to fully embrace the daughter of a woman he had tried and condemned for high treason, especially if he had doubts about her guilt. How troubling it must have been for a young girl to feel such strong love for both parents while wondering where her loyalties should lie in the deadly fight that was between them long before she was old enough to know any better.
At the end of the novel, the author points out several aspects of the novel that she felt might be quite controversial. I didn’t find those things controversial at all. This is a work of fiction and, with the exception of making a three year old much wiser for her years than any three year old I have ever met, they were all quite plausible journeys into the “what ifs” of Elizabeth’s life.
I do not say these things to dissuade people from reading this novel. Alison Weir is a skilled author and this book is an good read about Elizabeth’s early life in one place. I would suggest it more to those who have yet to discover her in fiction. For others, it might feel a bit like reviewing for a test you could easily pass without studying.
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