Saturday, July 2, 2011

Elizabeth I by Margaret George

I devoured Jean Plaidy's historical novels as a teenager and was thrilled to receive a review copy of Elizabeth I by American novelist Margaret George from Penguin Canada. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel that covers the second half of Elizabeth I's life, starting from the attack of the Spanish Armada. Narrated in turn by Elizabeth and Lettice Knollys, lifelong enemy of the queen because of their shared love for Robert Dudley, the people and events of the era are seen through the eyes of these older, more mature and reflective women.

Though the novel is ostensibly about Elizabeth, the more poignant story for me is that of the rise and fall of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, son of Lettice and a favourite of Elizabeth. Like a Shakespearean hero with a tragic flaw, Essex manufactures his own downfall through his pride and sense of entitlement. Shakespeare himself is a major character in this novel. While much of what he says and does may be speculation on George's part, her portrayal of his character is entirely consistent with what I would expect, or perhaps hope, he had been like.

Coincidentally, when I received this book, Kate was doing a unit on historical fiction at school. She is a huge fan of Tudor history and insisted on reading it herself, though I had some doubts whether she'd be able to get through the almost-700 pages. Clearly, the characters and plot were engaging enough to keep her attention, as she did finish it, and we will both look for more of Margaret George's work.

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