Book Source: NetGalley and Kensington Books
I’ve been a lover of historical fiction for years, especially Victorian, but I’ve gotta admit that it was Philippa Gregory who started me on my Tudor binge, at least book-wise, films have always been on the agenda. Anyway, it all began with The Other Boleyn Girl (didn't it for everyone?), continued with dozens of books about the Tudors, more recently with the Plantagenets, and I have even started to expand towards Spanish and German royalty, as they are all truly related anyway.
Recently though, I came across this brand new novel, Blood Between Queens about Queen Elizabeth and Mary, Queen of Scots, which automatically drew my attention to the soap opera-like lives of the Tudors.
The books starts with a whole bunch of characters who come in and out of the scene, apparently some castle, and all are somehow politically related to Queen Elizabeth. The author quickly shifts from one point of view to another, so at first it was difficult to figure out who the protagonist was, until it finally become obvious in the third chapter or so.
Justine Thornleigh is an adopted daughter of the Thornleigh family, who had rescued her from certain indigence when her father was named traitor and then passed away in a fire. However, Justine has always felt comfortable as part of the family, to the point of even falling in love with the Thornleigh's nephew, against their better judgment.
In the meantime, the drama between Queens Elizabeth and Mary is escalating as Mary has just run to England seeking asylum, her husband was mysteriously killed and most people believe she was responsible, with the help of her lover turned new husband (third one). Thus, Elizabeth is in a position in which she doesn't know what to do to believe if her cousin is innocent or not, so she decides to send a spy, and in comes Justine. For those unfamiliar with Mary Stuart, although she was Scottish, she was raised in France to be the king's wife, which she was for a short period of time. Justine, coincidentally, is half French on her father's side, so it was believed that she would be the perfect lady in waiting to gain Mary's trust and to spy on her.
Justine is deeply loyal to Elizabeth, but when she starts to get to know Mary, she starts to sympathize with her as well, hence her dilemma.
When I started reading this book I didn't know that it was part of a series until some events were referenced, which became a bit annoying, but in general it was a standalone book. Anyway, down to the review.
One of the weakest aspects in the book is the title itself; one is led to believe that this is solely about the queens, however they are secondary characters, which is fine, but maybe the title should have been a different one.
Like I already mentioned, all these characters popped up in the beginning and since I didn't read the other books in the series, I didn't understand who they were or their personal connections-not to mention that the point of view kept changing. Once I got it all sorted out though, it got easier to follow.
The real protagonist, Justine, was a bit hard to warm to. She was just so idiotic: lying to her fiance, believing in Mary, actually thinking to meddle into highly classified political matters, (SPOILER ALERT!) believing her criminal father and getting her father of the heart killed by him! Yikes! I understand she was supposed to be portrayed as a highly intelligent woman who wanted to do the right thing, but she just came off as extremely selfish, manipulative, and annoying.
The fiance, Will, was a complete self-righteous jerk who put his work ahead of his supposed love and never even tried to understand Justine's major mistake. Towards the end, he redeemed himself, but really, if I were Justine I wouldn't have forgiven him so easily, he should have been made to grovel some more.
As for the queens themselves, Mary was portrayed as also being totally manipulative, which is probably historically accurate, but I actually wanted to know how the author would resolve the allegations against her about killing her husband, but they never were. As for Elizabeth, she wasn't in the history line as much, although her encounters were Adam certainly made her out as two-faced. However, what I can say is that she certainly seemed to be quite naive, or at least her royal guards, to permit her into a home without fully checking it and the grounds!
There was also another subplot concerning the above mentioned Adam (another Thornleigh), but he was just so focused on lusting after Elizabeth that he kinda ignored his kids, and totally ignored his wife (there was something that happened in their past, in the other books, but no idea what), that he also came off as egotistical. In fact, none of the characters in the novel was particularly likable, maybe because the times called to be cold-blooded to survive, but I just think the author wanted to make them be well-rounded characters, but she just focused more on their dark sides.
All in all, it was OK. Way too much drama, rescues, intrigues, and blackguards, but historically it was pretty much accurate (except for the liberties the author admitted she took, which were fine). I don't think I'll read it again, but I'm glad I did.
Final verdict: 3 stars