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57 of 68 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars (3.5 stars) Weir's improved since her last novel but I have questions about what was left out and why, June 1, 2008
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This review is from: The Lady Elizabeth: A Novel (Hardcover)
It seems every year a new crop of novels about Elizabeth Tudor pop up. It's not surprising why-she's one of the most fascinating, powerful women in history. The first woman to rule a nation without a male consort, despite carrying on a lifetime (consummated or not) romance with a man considered highly inappropriate by her counselors and people. She played a highly skilled waiting game with the most powerful men in the world, stringing out marriage negotiations to ensure peace between the nations when she never intended to marry. I could go on and on and on...

But every novelist seems to have a different view of Elizabeth, the real, person Elizabeth that you can't learn about from reading her writings or researching her history. Sometimes Elizabeth is seen as a dark, brooding, sexual, regal, commanding and yet still unsure creature, frightened when it came to trusting any man. Others portray her as strong and unwilling to be dominated be anyone and if more naÔve and willing to trust when she was young, she changed as she aged. And some (unfortunately) have her being sometimes strong, bet most often naÔve and needing to be lead by men.

But the truth is, this is one of the only areas an author can be original in writing a biographical novel. There is only one story of Elizabeth's life, only so many historical documents and accounts left behind and no one will ever no know the whole truth and nothing but the truth unless Elizabeth herself shows up and decides to be very candid. So that leaves us with novelists, who take room for speculation and dramatic addition in the rumors of the time, or in adding a fictional character or event that may have influenced Elizabeth's life or character in some way, but in the end, the bare bones of the story are always the same.

But the story is a far different thing than the book. I must have read 10 different accounts of different parts of Elizabeth's life and no two are exactly alike. Writing style, importance of side characters, attention to historical detail, these things all change how the book is read.

"The Lady Elizabeth" Alison Weir's second novel is about Elizabeth's life from age 3 (1536) (when she was declared a bastard) to her ascension to the throne in 1558 and includes all that happened to her within this time period. Her version of Elizabeth is almost unveiled from the mythos that has come to surround the Virgin Queen. Here Elizabeth starts as a privileged child, somewhat imperious, enjoying her own importance, and quickly learns that the world is a dangerous place for her. She resolves not to love but can't help having a crush, and finally realizes the immense importance of deciding who you place your trust in. In short, she is a child who becomes a politician.

In my review of Weir's first novel I said that there could be no doubting of the accuracy of her research since her first route to fame was through biography. Well, now she's found her novelist's legs (keep this in mind as you read.) There is little or no mention in this book of events I've found in every other novel spanning the same time frame. Examples would be: The way no funds were given to Elizabeth's household after her mother's execution, Mary Tudor's often cruel and taunting treatment, Henry VIII's fickle nature regarding affection for his daughter and most strangely, an almost complete lack of Robert Dudley in Elizabeth's childhood.

I had always assumed that Robert and Elizabeth were schooled together and in a way grew up together but through a small amount of research have found that while they did share tutors, there is no evidence that they were taught by these men at the same time. If anyone knows more factual info about their childhood histories please leave a comment below. I just have a hard time believing they barely new each other and then all of a sudden on her coronation day he rode beside her as master of the horse. Seems like a big leap up, no?

There's also the matter of one of the more interesting and scandalous rumors that surrounded Elizabeth's life when she was young which Weir has taken fictional license to make true for her version of Elizabeth's life. This really bothered me at first but since reading the author's note I have no complaint. It is a novel after all and this does increase the drama factor by ten-and explain some major things about Elizabeth (if it happened to have been true.) But that doesn't mean I believe the incident was possible. (Sorry to be cryptic, major spoiler.)

In the end I think historical figures, especially ones who didn't leave behind especially clear impressions of their private selves such as Anne Frank are open to so much interpretation that you can almost pick and choose which version you like best. While Weir's Elizabeth will never be my favorite, ("Legacy" by Susan Kay has set the standard for me and I'm afraid there's no going back) I can't fault the style the book was executed in, only puzzle over parts of it. But there's no doubt that third person suits her much than first as she used for "Innocent Traitor." I Hope she continues to write this way (or maybe even experiment with second!)

It's always a pleasure to watch an author improve. I assume there will be a sequel to this. Perhaps, "Elizabeth the Queen?" I'll be on the look out for it and I look forward to Alison Weir's views on the development of the Queen's true personality.

Maybe in the end my ranking is tainted by the ghosts of other author's Elizabeth's floating around my head (and by my confusion about the absence of what I always viewed as some of the building blocks of Elizabeth's character) but I have to say in the end, for me, this is a three point five star book. I did enjoy it, went through it fast and would recommend it for the slightly different story of Elizabeth's early years and because it is only by gathering as much information as we can (even if it fictionalized) that we gain a true portrait of who a person really is. And with someone like Weir who knows Elizabeth probably was well as anyone alive today does, this does help fill in some blank spots on a canvas of a historical figure I revere immensely.
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Showing 1-10 of 13 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 8, 2008 8:04:06 AM PDT
Misfit says:
I'm thinking I'll be skipping the rest of Weir's books. A reader's group I participate in has several historical authors/researchers and the general opinion is that she diddles with known history to make her theories work. You're right about Legacy. That's the be all to end all of books on Elizabeth.

Posted on Jun 9, 2008 1:54:37 PM PDT
z says:
I really enjoyed this review and reviewer. I, also, have Susan Kay's "Legacy", and have not read it yet, but am excited to. I know what the reviewer means about when you find that novel that is 'just right' you do always compare with that. For me that is "The Book of Eleanor" by Pamela Kaufman. I can't seem to find another "Eleanor" like hers. Thank you for taking the time to write such an insightful review. I am going to begin "The Lady Elizabeth" tonight.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 9, 2008 1:56:32 PM PDT
z says:
I know I was really disappointed in her Innocent Traitor. I, too, am an excited "Legacy" owner. I will give this a shot, though I just got it from the library. I wouldn't want to risk spending the money. Lori

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 9, 2008 9:06:19 PM PDT
Lilly Flora says:
Yeah-I think my policy of buying books from authors I know I won't like just to review them needs to go out the window. I am proud to say I have offically dropped Phillipa Gregory. Her books don't make me happy, so I won't read them. Go Me!

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 10, 2008 6:45:00 AM PDT
Misfit says:
I can't believe PG is writing about Mary Queen of Scots of all boring topics. I'm with you, any unknown author and/or a book I only want to read once (like Lady Macbeth), I get from the lib. Then if I love it I'll buy it. Fortunately I'm in a county with a very well funded library system. They get almost all of the new stuff and have tons of the old out of print and very expensive ones as well :-)

Lori, you'll have to let us know how you like Legacy. It's one of the best ever.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 11, 2008 11:25:46 AM PDT
Misfit says:
Well so much for my not buying anything and going to the library. I was interested in a Nora Roberts romance set in Scotland of course the lib didn't have it so of course I have to buy it and OF COURSE I must have free super saver shipping and -- you know the rest. :-)

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 11, 2008 7:25:48 PM PDT
Lilly Flora says:
You'll end up trying to sell it-I am....

Posted on Jun 13, 2008 7:07:14 AM PDT
Keep reading, you still have a lot to learn, any fool knows that all people can deduce and come to different conclusions. You want the author to do all the work and study for you. Be grateful to have the resources before you. You are no Alison Weir.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 14, 2008 5:40:33 PM PDT
Lilly Flora says:
I'm not claiming to be. But yes, writers of historical fiction should do research. The fact that Weiir is stretching her fiction muscles is a good thing but people should be aware of the supposed facts (as close as we'll know anyway) and as Weir states them in the back I have no problem with that. I'm simply saying that most people form persceptions based on either first impressions (first book) or best impression (favorite book) of any known historical figure. And that impression tends to last and taint all other readings. Cleay you don't grasp the point of my review.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 2, 2008 8:22:04 AM PDT
Item the first: Alison Weir *IS* one of those historians who gleans as she chooses from her primary sources, and cultivates her brilliant "new" perspectives based on that. She is short-sighted as a biographer, at best; I think she has found her niche in fiction writing, which was really where she started to begin with. (I apologize if I sound impatient, but I am; I have a PhD. in medieval British history, and throughout my studies have refused to cite Weir as a source because of her prejudiced leanings.) I am looking forward to reading this new novel; truth or fiction, Elizabeth is hardly a character one can dumb down or make in any way dull.

Item the Second: In answer to the reviewers question: No, Elizabeth did not have frequent dealings with Dudley during her childhood; there are too many reasons to elaborate on here, but primarily, consider the foundations of his family, and the likelihood that Elizabeth -no matter her status at any given time, or perhaps because of it- would have been schooled alongside anyone beyond those of her immediate household and/or family. Elizabeth "inherited" Dudley, much as she did the rest of what went with her coronation and new royal status. It is not that unusual that he or anyone else would spontaneously pop up at her side at any point immediately following that precarious chain of events.

Thank you for taking the time to relay such an excellent review.
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