Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace


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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Historical Fiction Review: Rival to the Queen by Carolly Erickson

As a long standing fan of Tudor fiction, I was extremely eager to read, Carolly Erickson's new release, Rival to the Queen, and I think historical fiction fans will find this tale intriguing!

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Last Wife of Henry VIII comes a novel about the bitter rivalry between Queen Elizabeth I and her fascinating cousin, Lettice Knollys, for the love of one extraordinary man.

Powerful and dramatic, this is the story of the only woman to ever stand up to the Virgin Queen—her own cousin, Lettice Knollys. Far more attractive than the queen, Lettice soon won the attention of the handsome and ambitious Robert Dudley, a man so enamored of the queen and determined to share her throne that it was rumored he had murdered his own wife in order to become her royal consort. The enigmatic Elizabeth allowed Dudley into her heart, and relied on his devoted service, but shied away from the personal and political risks of marriage.

When Elizabeth discovered that he had married her cousin Lettice in secret, Lettice would pay a terrible price, fighting to keep her husband’s love and ultimately losing her beloved son to the queen’s headsman.

This is the unforgettable story of two women related by blood, yet destined to clash over one of Tudor England’s most charismatic men.

St. Martin's Griffin, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-61697-7, ISBN10: 0-312-61697-X
Available in print and ebook
I know I have often wondered about the relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and her rival cousin Lettice Knollys--after all, Lettice did the one thing Elizabeth had wanted to do most of her life, marry Robert Dudley.

This book gave quite a perspective I hadn't before seen--which is one reason I love historical fiction, there are so many different ways a person can view the events and tell a tale. I've heard of Elizabeth's tantrums and her jealousies towards others, even heard some horrid things she'd done to her ladies in waiting, but Ms. Erickson's novel brought it all to vivid light.

I felt a connection with Lettice, aka "Lettie", early on in the story, and I also found myself profoundly loathing her sister Cecilia. Goodness! It is the second book I read in August with a horrid sister! If I were Lettie, I think I would have tried to find a way to get back at Cecelia, or never spoken to her again. Her sister literally ruined her life at an early age.

Courtly life was alive and vivid with Elizabethan gowns, glamor, politics, etc... well explained and beautifully written. True to real-life historical figures, which I love to revisit again and again, were well captured on the page and in the plot of the story.

I did have some trouble with Lettie's ability to forgive and let gloss over Robert's infidelity. Although, that is a modern woman speaking. In that era, his infidelities would have been the norm, and it wouldn't have phased her, and in truth, Ms. Erickson captured it perfectly. I just had a hard time with the motivation for her forgiveness. I would have liked to see more how their romance developed that would make her defy the Queen in such a way. Why would she risk it all?

Despite Robert's infidelity, Lettie won. She triumphed over Douglas Howard, she triumphed over the Queen, something not very many women were able to do. And in fact, she must have held some considerable space in the Queen's mind because she held her close, and even found Lettice's son by her first husband one of her favorites--Robert Devereux.

I should also mention, this tale briefly touches on the mysterious death of Amy Robsart, Robert Dudley's first wife, a story that has often fascinated me. It was an interesting twist.

It is a tragic tale with courtly drama, love and treachery. I did enjoy reading it, and I would recommend it to other fans of Tudor fiction.

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