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Elizabeth I: A Novel Hardcover – April 5, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Personal and political conflicts among such larger-than-life historical figures as Francis Bacon, Walter Raleigh, Francis Drake, and Will Shakespeare intertwine in George's meticulously envisioned portrait of Elizabeth I during the last 25 years of her reign. Unlike most contemporary depictions of the Virgin Queen, this one is actually a virgin; she's married to England, whose interests she pursues with shrewdness, courage, and wisdom borne of surviving the deaths of her family. Readers see the queen through her own eyes and those of her cousin, Lettice Knollys, wife of Elizabethan heartthrob Robert Dudley, aka the earl of Leicester. Elizabeth's antithesis, thrice-married and much-bedded Lettice, is driven by passion and self-interest, easily evidenced by the story's beginnings: it's 1588, and Elizabeth meets the threat of the Spanish Armada head-on while Lettice calculates how her son might benefit. Like her heroine, George (The Autobiography of Henry VIII) possesses an eye for beauty and a knack for detail, creating a vibrant story that, for nearly 700 pages, enables readers to experience firsthand Elizabeth's decisions, triumphs, and losses. Rather than turn Elizabeth I into a romantic heroine, George painstakingly reveals a monarch who defined an era. (Apr.)
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*Starred Review* Having already tackled Henry VIII (The Autobiography of Henry VIII, 1986) and Mary, Queen of Scots (Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles, 1992), George now turns to Elizabeth I. Narrating her own story, Elizabeth is in late middle age, still formidable, but having hot flashes and keeping notes as a memory aid. Robert Dudley, the love of her life, dies early on, and one by one she loses most of her other trusted councillors as well. Dudley�s ambitious and wayward stepson Robert Devereaux, the Earl of Essex, arrives at court and becomes her last great favorite. As she did in The Autobiography of Henry VIII, George adds an extra dimension by providing a second narrator; here it is Devereaux�s mother (and Dudley�s widow), Lettice Knollys. Banished from court because of an irregular marriage, Knollys conducts an adventurous sex life (one of her lovers is Will Shakespeare) and schemes to push Devereaux into power and restore the family fortunes. George�s mastery of period detail and her sure navigation through the rocky shoals of Elizabethan politics mean this lengthy novel never flags. --Mary Ellen Quinn
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The novel is co-narrated by Elizabeth herself and begins in 1588 as she enters late middle age . Co-narrator is her cousin, Lettice Knollys - the woman who had the audacity to actually marry the queen's main squeeze - Robert Dudley, The Earl of Leicester. Covering the last 25 years of Elizabeth's illustrious reign this book puts a very human face on the great Queen - complete with her need to keep notes to jog her memory, hot flashes that are troublesome, the sadness of the loss of more and more long time friends and trusted advisers.
The characters are rounded out, well developed and made very human - among the stand-outs are William Shakespeare, Francis Drake, Francis Bacon, Walter Raleigh, William and Robert Cecil and the indomitable Earl of Essex - Robert Deveraux, the step-son of Robert Dudley and the son of Lettice Knollys- who Elizabeth had taken under her wing and upon whom she had lavished many rewards and titles.
The book follows Elizabeth commitment - she is wedded to her country and it's people rather to any man of her choosing - and Lettice who lives a passion filled life of loves and losses. Lettice was banished from the Court upon her marriage to Robert Dudley and the book follows the querulous nature of their relationship and the gradual thawing of the Queen's displeasure as the pair meet on common ground - the garden of Hever castle - former home of their forbears - Anne and Mary Boleyn.
Also featured in the book is Elizabeth's life long friend and confident Catherine Knollys, wife of Sir Francis Knollys and daughter of Mary Boleyn (Lettice Knollys was Mary's grand daughter). Catherine, in the book, is considered the family peace maker. We feel the threat of the Spanish Armada and the Irish threat of the great O'Neill, Lord of Tyrone. All of the political fears and skirmishes of the time are brought to light almost like having a ear on history - like being a fly on the walls of Whitehall and Richmond Palaces. Riveting stuff!
This book is meticulously well researched and it paints a vivid image of what it must have been to be Elizabeth, The Virgin Queen. Historical details bring the period to life and the characters are almost 'touchable'. I loved this book and will, I think, choose to also listen the audible version. I found that Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall" really came thoroughly to life when I listened it...and think listening to this book might really highlight my delight with the book even more.
If anything - I would have liked this novel to go on longer. I savored the last pages of this book and was saddened when I finished the last page. It's a book I will, no doubt, re-read.