- Victoria Lamb
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. Yet 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.
I’ve always been a bit of a history and the Tudor period holds a certain fascination for me (and most of the UK), so I was happy to receive this book as part of the Transworld Historical Challenge. Set in the middle part of Elizabeth I’s reign during her summer progress, The Queen’s Secret tells the story of a young black entertainer and how she gets caught up in political and romantic intrigue at court. Lucy Morgan is young, brave and naïve – all perfect characteristics for manipulation by the Queen and her favourite, Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester. However, it’s not just romance that is on the courts mind this summer – foreign Catholics have sworn to return England to the faith and there are always those who believe Elizabeth’s claim to the throne is weak…
This was a relatively unknown period of Tudor history for me – and I enjoyed exploring an era a little less travelled. The long running relationship between Elizabeth and Robert Dudley, is fascinating. She truly seems to love him, but refuses to marry him – not trusting his ambition if she made him King. Added to the mix is Lettice Knollys, the Countess of Essex and Elizabeth’s Cousin, younger, more beautiful and also in love with Dudley. This was my favourite aspect to the story as I felt for both women. Neither were the most innocent of people but flawed and more fascinating for this. Lucy is caught in the middle of this love triangle as Dudley spots her and sponsors her at court as the queen’s songbird. Lucy is a very likeable character, but I confess I couldn’t understand her loyalty to Dudley – he just seemed to be using her without a care for what she was risking. However, her youthful naivety and joy at the simple things in life was an interesting facet to the Tudor court. Lucy’s guardian Goodluck was intriguing and would have liked to know more about him – and why he took in Lucy when her mother died.
The descriptions of the scenery, entertainments, food and lavish lifestyle enjoyed by the court are absorbing and vivid. Victoria Lamb’s writing is instantly gripping and engaging, taking the reader on a whirlwind visit to the sixteenth century and a different time. The historical setting was a pleasant change from my recent reading habits and I’m glad that more novels featuring Lucy Morgan will be written as there were some tantalising plot ends left hanging. This would appealing to those who historical romance based on real characters – and those who don’t mind a little bit of intrigue in their stories.
Recommended for fans of Phillippa Gregory and Alison Weir. 8 out of 10