Review of Fools And Mortals by Bernard Cornwell.

This story is set in the heart of Elizabethan London and centres around Richard Shakespeare, the brother of William Shakespeare. Both Richard and his older brother, William, are players – performers in the playhouses of London. The tale is told from the narrative of Richard, who has had a fairly bleak life up until he meets Silvia.

As the brother of William, who is a sharer in a playhouse in London, and a good play writer, you would be forgiven for thinking Richard leads a charmed life, getting all of the best parts in the plays his brother writes. That’s not the case, William treats Richard very shoddily and the parts that he offers him in his plays are menial.

The portrait that the author paints for us is one of a very bleak existence indeed. As I was reading this book I could feel the despair that Richard often felt, and hoped he would leave his brother’s playhouse for the new one being built across the river.

William is asked to,write a play for a wedding being held in the home of a Lord, who is rumoured to be the secret half-brother of Queen Elizabeth. The play that William writes is A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Richard has begged William for a man’s part in the play. To his surprise William gives him such a part, but when they begin rehearsals Richard soon realises he has been cast as a man who plays a woman.

It is at this grand home that he discovers Silvia lives, the lovely young woman he noticed at an earlier date when she had accompanied the bride-to-be when she had called in at the playhouse with her mother and her ladies-in-waiting. This helps to cheer Richard up and he decides to stick around.

The play is stolen by one of the other young men, who has been lured away to the rival playhouse by the promise of more money. William believes all is lost, it Richard assures him he will return with the stolen script. Richard figures out where Simon Willoughby would have taken the script to and devises a plan to get it back. Much to his surprise his plan pays off, but as he is escaping one of the villains who masterminded the theft catches up with him. In a blind panic Richard fires a gun and manages to wound de Valle. He makes his escape and upon his return to the grand house he presents his brother with the stolen script. William is extremely grateful, but this still does not get Richard a coveted part in the play. Deciding he is happy anyway because of his blossoming friendship and budding romance with Silvia, he decides to stick it out with his part.

But Richard is captured by de Valle’s contacts a day or so later and is forced to say he will set his own brother up, declaring that he is a practising catholic. But he devises a plan and upon his escape and the conclusion is the performance of the play at the wedding.

The book is very well written, but the story is quite bleak. I guess this was how life was during the reign of Elizabeth I. The characters are either rascals and people we can root for, or evil doers who are not very pleasant at all. This is probably true of the time, so it makes for fairly grim reading at times.

Definitely not a hearts and flowers type of book, despite the happy ending. The author has clearly researched this era well and this is evident in the book. I think this book would appeal to those who enjoy reading books from this era, or the gritty and realistic story this book tells.

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Review of The Forbidden Queen

 

The Forbidden Queen is a story about Katherine of Valois.  Katherine’s early life was pretty dismal, despite being the daughter of the King and queen of France.  She grows up in a convent with her sister, Michelle, after their father loses his mind and their mother abandons them.

Michelle, upon becoming of age, is married off to a nobleman and Katherine longs for her own Knight in shining armor to come and rescue her from the life she has had to endure at the convent.

It seems all of her dreams have come true when her mother arrives one day to break the news to her that Henry V, King of England, wants to marry her.  After a few negotiations Katherine is taken to meet Henry, whom she falls for immediately.

After they marry Katherine believes he will fall in love with her when she is able to produce an heir for him.  Their marriage is far from the romantic idyll Katherine had imagined it to be, instead Henry spends his time preoccupied with the war he is waging in France.  She hopes things will improve between them when she learns she is pregnant, hopefully carrying the son Henry has longed for. 

Katherine soon learns that Henry married her so that he could lay claim to France, but she is determined to make the best of her marriage.  Her plans don’t go quite to plan as Henry becomes ill and subsequently dies, before ever having the chance to meet his son.

Katherine mourns the loss of her husband, sinking into a despair, mourning for the life they would never have, mourning for the love she would never have and mourning for the father her son would never know.

Katherine is dragged from her despair by Edmund Beaufort, brother of one of her damsels. He cleverly pulls her from the depths of her despair, making her fall in love with him.  Edmund eventually asks her to marry him, but makes her promise to keep the proposal a secret.  But their is talk at court about what Edmund has planned and a close confidant of Katherine’s warns her that he is just using her to further his own interests.  Katherine refuses to believe this, until she discovers that her brother-in-law has managed to pass a law that any man who marries her will lose all of his wealth and lands and status.  Edmund Beaufort turns his back on Katherine, much to her dismay.

After sliding into despair again she wonders if she is destined to be alone.  A chance encounter with a member of her staff changes the course of her future.  She embarks on an affair with her servant, Owen Tudor, and they eventually marry.  But Katherine’s brother-in-law again interferes and they pair face a lengthy battle to win the right to live the life they choose.

All in all this story was wonderfully compelling.  Having little knowledge of this particular Queen of England I had no idea where the story would lead.  I thoroughly enjoyed the tale and highly recommend it, giving it five stars *****

 

Review Of Roses Have Thorns

I have read very little of this genre so was not sure what to expect with this novel.  I an happy to say that this was a brilliant book.  I started reading it late Thursday (March 21st) and finished it on Saturday (March 23rd).  Every spare moment I had I gave to this book as I was so intrigued by what was going to happen next.
As I have already said, I have never been a huge fan of Tudor history, but this book has actually whetted my appetite and I am now looking for more material on this genre.

The book is about Lady Elin Snakenborg’s time she served as a lady in waiting to Elizabeth I.  The author does say in her write up that this lady was a little known figure from this time, though she was an actual member of court and not a fictional character.  In the book she is portrayed as naive and vulnerable at first, although she does seem to set her heart on marriage with one of the most influential and rich bachelors at court.  Even when she discovers he is still legally married she waits for him, so I am not sure just how naive Elin – later known as Helena – actually is.

That said, the book charts her life from her leaving Sweden right up until just after the death of Elizabeth I and I warmed to this character very much.  The book also lends warmth to Elizabeth I and that helped me enjoy the book all the more.  I am not entirely sure how likeable a character ELizabeth I actually was, not being familiar with Tudor history, but the author wove her into the story really well and for all she came across as a friendly lady the narrative was very credible.

I am rating this book as a five star read and thoroughly enjoyable.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.  You absolutely must go out and buy it, especially if this genre, particularly anything Tudor related, is your thing.

5 star ***** read.

Review Of The Border Laird’s Bride.

I am not overly fond of historical novels, the characters tend to get on my nerves, so it is has been a long time since I actually read anything from this genre.  I have to hold my hand up and say how wrong I was in this instance.  The main female character, Kenzie, was as far from the usual swooning, genteel ladies of this genre.  Her character could have been set in any era and that pleased me.

The main male character, Jamie, was not the typical “I am the male and therefore you will do as I say” character that this genre usually produces, but I wondered if I could warm to him, being a laird.  I half expected him to be full of his own self importance, given his position, yet he was not like that at all.  He was a kind man and I warmed to him almost immediately.

If all novels in this genre could be written in such a way then I would definitely read more of them.  Full marks to the author for writing such a pleasing piece.

Rated 5 stars.  *****