Warwickshire, 1575 - Pomp, fanfare and a wealth of lavish festivities await Elizabeth I at Kenilworth Castle. Organised by the Earl of Leicester, he knows this celebration is his last chance to persuade the Queen to marry him. But, a fickle man, he is unable to resist the seductive wiles of Lettice Knollys. Enraged by the couple’s growing intimacy, Elizabeth employs a young black singer and court entertainer to keep a watch on them. Brought up by a spy, Lucy’s observational skills are sharper than anyone at the castle realises, and she soon uncovers far more than she bargained for: someone at Kenilworth is plotting to kill the queen. Can Lucy's discovery prevent the queen's death? Or has it put Lucy in mortal danger instead?
Queen Elizabeth’s complicated character is portrayed extremely well, from her jealousy of anyone younger and prettier than herself, to her love for Leicester, which is genuine but dangerous if she is to maintain her autocratic power. Although she loves Robert, and sometimes logs for marriage and motherhood, his ambition frightens her.
Dudley pulls out all the stops to entertain the Queen, even trying to cool down his affair with Lettuce Knoylls, Countess of Essex, the unhappily married daughter of Mary Boleyn and Henry VIII, although her half sister status is not acknowledged and she is subject to Elizabeth’s whims, bad temper and jealousy.
Elizabeth’s colourful royal entourage blazes a trail through the English countryside, and Ms Lamb’s descriptions of the progress is masterly. From white palfreys and silver cloth canopies to the hay carts without seats to which the entertainers are consigned. There is a scene where Elizabeth and her ladies are resting in a tent after the hunt and she listens to a private conversation. The use of a bee and the sunlight on the fabric of the awning is so beautifully done, I could almost have been there listening with her.
The other hero of this unusual story is Sir Frances Walsingham’s spy, Master Goodluck, who happens to be Lucy’s guardian. I loved the way Ms Lamb’s scenes went from a totally feminine atmosphere of fine clothes, diplomatic conversations that showcased the dynamics of ladies in waiting enduring their mistress’s suspicions and jealousy, to the very masculine arena of Walsingham and Goodluck organising a web of spies to keep an eye on what is going on.
I know Ms Lamb once lived close to Kenilworth castle, and she obviously knows every aspect of the buildings, grounds, the lake and views, describing it in a way that transports the reader there too. Her research on courtly ways are expert, like the lengthy ‘undressing ritual’ the queen went through for every costume change. [Was it really called a ‘bum roll’?]Victoria Lamb is indeed a gifted storyteller, and I am delighted to hear that her second ‘Lucy Morgan’ novel is in the mix!
Victoria Lamb's Website
Anita Davison is a Historical Fiction Author whose latest release, ‘Royalist Rebel’ a biographical novel set in 17th Century England, is being released by Claymore Books in early 2013 under the name Anita Seymour