BLURB: “In 1565, seventeen-year-old Elin von Snakenborg leaves Sweden on a treacherous journey to England. Her fiance has fallen in love with her sister and her dowry money has been gambled away, but ahead of her lies an adventure that will take her to the dizzying heights of Tudor power. Transformed through marriage into Helena, the Marchioness of Northampton, she becomes the highest-ranking woman in Elizabeth’s circle. But in a court that is surrounded by Catholic enemies who plot the Queen’s downfall, Helena is forced to choose between her unyielding monarch and the husband she’s not sure she can trust – a choice that will provoke catastrophic consequences.”
REVIEW: I was greatly looking forward to reading another novel about Elizabeth I, keen to see how Byrd’s portrayal of Elizabeth would link in with my own views and perceptions. The character of Elin von Snakenborg only added to my intrigue – Byrd states in the afterword that she chose Elin as a subject not only because her story was so unusual, but also because she had never really been written about before. This surprised me, as Elin’s story is a writer’s dream even without the artistic licence that Byrd has clearly taken; it is full of passion and intrigue, and made even more fascinating by the close relationship that develops between Elin and the Queen. Through Elin’s eyes we suffer her personal struggles – the love affair between her fiance and sister, her struggle to marry the Marquess of Northampton, her descent into widowhood, her love affair with Thomas Gorges, and her suffering as their once perfect relationship begins to slowly deteriorate. Yet we also experience the struggles faced by Elizabeth, through Elin’s closeness to the monarch. The story spans the majority of Elizabeth’s reign and focuses particularly on the Catholic threats and the problem of recusancy that plagued Elizabeth throughout her rule; this makes a refreshing change, as many historical fiction authors struggle to face religious and political problems of the period head-on due to the difficulty of making them accessible to the reader. Byrd makes these problems accessible for the reader but also gives the reader with prior knowledge of the period a new interpretation of the key events and figures of the time, making the book enjoyable for all. Although in places the book could sometimes feel rushed, I read it quickly and enjoyed finding out more about a woman I had previously known nothing about, as well as uncovering a new and intelligent portrayal of Elizabeth herself.