Setting: England, mainly at Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire
Main characters: Elizabeth I, Robert Dudley - Earl of Leicester, Lettice Knollys (grand-daughter of Mary Boleyn) - wife of the Earl of Essex, Lucy Morgan - a young African singer and court entertainer, William Shakespeare - age 11.
First paragraph, Prologue: "Lucy Morgan peered over the high wooden side of the swaying cart. A group of soldiers trotted past, sunlight glinting off their helmets, their dusty blue livery announcing their allegiance to Lord Leicester. Staring back down the road, she could no longer see the distant towers of Richmond Palace, their bright pennants fluttering in the breeze off the River Thames, but only wooded hills and high green hedgerows as the road deepened into countryside."
Favorite lines: "She had heard of Walsingham. He was the Queen's spymaster and one of the most dangerous men at court. Some said he had strangled men with his bare hands and could sniff out a lie at a thousand paces. She could well believe his reputation. He had thin, papery eyelids that barely seemed to move, his dark gaze steady and unblinking, like that of a watchful snake. She lowered her own eyes, focusing instead on his immaculate hands resting on the parchment-strewn desk, the vast gold ring glinting on his finger. She could imagine those hands about her neck, squeezing the life out of her." p. 162-163.
"The mirror in Elizabeth's hand showed a pale, pockmarked face, stripped now of her whitening paint, the short spiked hair on her head like that of a demented baby. She stared down at herself, her dry lips trembling, her eyes wide - still alert, with the watchful gaze of the young woman she remembered. Without her bright wigs, her potions, her jewelled gowns, the trappings of princedom, what was she but an aging hag, a foul-breathed creature any man would pass by in the marketplace and shudder to imagine beside him at night?" p. 243.
"Sunshine burned on her closed lids. Opening them, she danced on, dazzled but alive. Her hands strong, graceful. Her feet pointed thus. Immaculate. The ring of their faces blurred slowly. A tree, shaken: white petals, blossom drifting on the air. Lucy turned, arms wide and spinning, into the last movement." p. 297.
Given that I had to include three favorite passages, I love Victoria Lamb's ability to paint with words. Her descriptions are marvelous. The setting is based on Elizabeth's visit to Kenilworth Castle in 1575, described in marvelous detail in Robert Laneham's Letter. Even the character of Lucy Morgan is based on one or more persons mentioned in historical documents. Certainly there were black musicians and entertainers at court. That gives this novel a point of view that is quite unique among the plethora of Tudor fiction. We have an appearance from the 11-year-old William Shakespeare and can speculate that Lucy is the inspiration for the "Dark Lady" (especially given the working title of book #2) which I think is just brilliant. I loved everything about this book and eagerly wait for the sequels to be published.
Description: July, 1575: Elizabeth I, Queen of England, arrives at Kenilworth Castle—home of Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester. Leicester, who has long had ambitions to marry the Queen, knows this may be his very last chance to persuade her to marry him. Toward this end, the hopeful earl has organized a lavish week of music, dancing, and fireworks. Despite his attachment to the Queen and his driving ambition to be her King, Leicester is unable to resist the seductive wiles of Lettice, wife of the Earl of Essex—and the queen’s own cousin. Soon whispers of their relationship start spreading through the court. Enraged by their growing intimacy, Elizabeth employs Lucy Morgan, a young African singer and court entertainer, to spy on the adulterous lovers. But Lucy, who was raised by a spy in London, uncovers far more than she bargains for. For someone at Kenilworth is plotting to kill the queen. No longer able to tell friend from foe, it is soon not only the queen who is in mortal danger—but Lucy herself…
About the author: Victoria Lamb grew up in the peaceful Isle of Man, benefiting from a vast library of books and a family of writers from which to take inspiration. (Victoria is the daughter of the acclaimed and prolific historical novelist Charlotte Lamb.) She lives in Warwickshire, England. The Queen's Secret is her fiction debut, and the first in a planned trilogy of novels set in the court of Elizabeth I.
#1 The Queen's Secret
#2 His Dark Lady
#3 Her Last Assassin