I can't say enough good things about the Virgin and the Crab, it's a wonderful novel which grips you from the start and takes you back into the superstitious times of Tudor England. For me, it was a refreshing change from some historical novels which annoy me with all the liberties they take - this one was grounded in fact and it was obvious that Robert Parry did his research and that he has a respect for history.
The novel takes you from the death of Henry VIII, through the reigns of Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey and Mary I, right up to the accession of Elizabeth I, yet you never feel rushed or that the book is missing huge chunks of history out. The story is told mainly through the character of John Dee, a man who I have likened to a Tudor version of Patrick Jane, mixed with a little James Bond. He is an amazing character - a master of disguise, a spy and secret agent, and someone who can get people to do what he wants them to do or who can just fade into the background and not be seen. More importantly he is a scholar and astrologer who is called upon to read Nativity charts and advise monarchs like Mary I. Dee is also the member of a secret society who want the best for England and which is made up of enlightened visionaries like William Cecil and Roger Ascham. It is so hard to describe John Dee, a man who was an adviser and close friend of Elizabeth I, but I hope that gives you an idea of this wonderful character.
I have three things that I look for in an historical novel - is it gripping and unputdownable? Does it make you want to know more about the real life characters of the book? And is it believable? Yes, yes and yes! I couldn't wait to relax on the sofa at the end of the day with this book. It was a delight to read and I kept finding myself staying up far too late ot read just another chapter! It has also left me fascinated with John Dee and the superstition, magic and beliefs of the era. He is not a character you meet when you study Tudor history, yet he was an amazing man. As far as believability, this novel brought the era and characters to life for me. The scenes between Elizabeth and her sweetheart Dudley were beautiful, the scenes showing Mary I and her paranoia, urge for vengeance and jealousy of Elizabeth were so alive and I loved finding out more about people like Blanche and Thomas Parry, Philip of Spain, Lady Jane Grey and the Dudleys.
All in all I would recommend this novel to people who enjoy a riproaring read which is based on history.