The Queen’s Secret
by debut author Victoria Lamb
Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Bantam Press (16 Feb 2012)
Elizabeth I, Queen of England, arrives at Kenilworth Castle amid pomp, fanfare and a wealth of lavish festivities, laid on by the Earl of Leicester. The hopeful Earl knows this is his very last chance to persuade the Queen to marry him.
But 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 soon whispers of their relationship start spreading through the court.
Enraged by the adulterous lovers growing intimacy, Elizabeth employs Lucy Morgan, a young black singer and court entertainer, to spy on the couple. But Lucy, who was raised by a spy in London, uncovers far more than she bargains for.
For someone at Kenilworth that summer 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.
We get to meet Lucy Morgan in the prologue in May 1575 when she is travelling with other woman of the court in a cart. Aged 14 and an entertainer, she’s only been at court for six months. Lucy is black, an orphan and is viewed by everyone as being bad luck. When she performed in London she was tucked away in the back of the chorus with her hair covered and her skin hidden by a shawl. Circumstances mean she is the only one of the few sopranos to be travelling with the Queen’s ‘progress’.
The first chapter sets the scene for spies and Catholic plots when Lord Walsingham meets one of his spies. In the second chapter, Queen Elizabeth sees Lettice sneak out of her tent to whisper outside to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester … and so the players are in place for the story to commence …
I have spent a couple of days journeying through the summer of 1575. The majority of the story is set at Kenilworth Castle and I just loved the descriptions of the different parts of the castle. The author creates this world in such a way that it’s easy to be there alongside the characters. When Lettice looks out of the apartment window to see the time on the clock – I looked out with her and remembered Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, had stopped it so that the Queen’s time there was symbolic of living outside of time itself.
The entertainment that the Earl of Leicester lays on from the very beginning has a purpose behind it – symbols of his desire to marry Elizabeth. These are all so very cleverly crafted and all relevant to the time in which they’re set. He is so devious I was never quite sure where his heart truly lay although of course the ultimate prize would be to rule beside Elizabeth, which may not have anything to do with love at all! I did feel extremely sorry for Lettice. At one point it is so clear how frustrating it was at that time in history to have your own home and children but having to please the Queen and her whims instead of living your life.
Elizabeth herself was a character I believed in. As a reader I could feel her wavering thoughts about whether she should accept the Earl’s proposal or not – being swayed by her feelings one moment and then at other times total refusal when her thoughts turned to how safe her crown would be. The perceptions of herself as having to be careful not to be seen as having the same predisposition as her father is also a part of her character. It is easy to identify with her as a woman as well as a ruler.
Lucy Morgan is a brilliant character. Used by the Queen and the Earl as a spy, her anxieties could be clearly felt. She is a heroine that acts without thinking. In the Author’s Note at the end of the book we find out that Lucy Morgan did exist and as part of the Queen’s attendants. I think there is more to ‘tell’ about Lucy’s life and would love the author to write another story that includes her!
The plotting and espionage intrigued me and I enjoyed how everything tied up, despite the sadness I felt for one of the characters.
It was great to see Will Shakespeare make an appearance and also John Dee mentioned 🙂
And what about the Queen’s secret? It does have a bearing on her decision. You’ll have to read the book to find out what it is …
This is a story about Elizabeth’s ‘progress’ away from court for the summer of 1575. There is familial love, romance, deceit, espionage, intrigue and mortal danger.
Victoria Lamb has researched extensively which is very obvious to the reader.
The Queen’s Secret for me is a very strong three-fairy read:
The author has also written Witchstruck, a YA Paranormal Tudor story. Due for publication 5 July 2012 by Corgi Childrens, it has gone straight onto my wishlist.