Roses Have Thorns by Sandra Byrd

Title: Roses Have Thorns
Author: Sandra Byrd

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 16th Century / Elizabeth / Tudors / Sweden / Court Intrigue / Religious Intrigue / Marriage)
Publisher/Publication Date: Howard Books (4/9/2013)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Rating: Loved.
Did I finish?: I did, in a night.
One-sentence summary: The story of Elizabeth's I court told through the eyes of a Swedish courtier who wants family, love, and friendship.
Reading Challenges: E-book, Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: You know what? I do. Even though it has the headless motif going on, I rather like the female figure's unusual profile. She seems a little zaftig, too, which I dig! I will admit that I keep thinking the other figure is a lipstick-wearing male attendant of some kind, and I'm loving that, too. (In my defense, I only have this as an e-book; perhaps it is more obvious with a physical copy.)

First line: I may have been a maiden just shy of seventeen years of age, but I was no simpleton.

Did... I about die of happy when I saw that blogger friend Jenny Q of Historical Editorial and Let Them Read Books got a shout out from Byrd in the Acknowledgements?!: YES! Especially since Jenny is super cool and I like it when super cool people get recognized by super cool authors!

Do... I love her Tudor Hall?: YES. Detail geeks, prepare to lose it: Byrd has family trees for everyone ranging from Henry to the Seymours, Parrs, and Wyatts.

Am... I loving her To Be Read column?: YES. She shares what she's reading, and offers wonderful interviews with other writers. I love seeing writers geeking out over other writers.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy, especially if you're in the mood for a historical that has some romance and drama without sex and violence.

Why did I get this book?: I've heard nothing but good things about Byrd's novels!

Review: So, I went into this knowing it was a Tudor book (featuring Elizabeth), but so many people swear by Byrd's novels I decided to give it a go. What I didn't realize until I got my galley was that this is a Howard Book release. (Howard Books is Simon & Schuster's faith-based imprint and belongs to the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association.) So I must confess I was immediately apprehensive, being not Christian and not inclined toward inspirational fiction.

My apprehension was unnecessary.

I had a great time with this book -- it read fast, was plotty, well-written, and just the diversion I needed. I'm definitely a Sandra Byrd fan right now and will have to be less snobbish about some inspirational fiction!

Byrd tells the story of Elizabeth I's court through the eyes of a Swedish courtier, Elin von Snakenborg, who later becomes Helena, Marchioness of Northampton, the highest ranked woman in England after the Queen. At seventeen, Elin leaves Sweden aware that her charismatic sister and her fiance are liking having a fling, and spends the next ten months -- ten months! -- sailing to get to England. Upon arriving in England, Elin's only friend is William Parr, 1st Marquess of Northampton, an older widower who is taken with her. Hungry for family, chilled by the English courtiers, Elin's situation changes when she's allowed to stay in England to wed Parr after the Swedish delegation departs. But once her countrymen are gone, she learns the widower Parr isn't marriageable: his first wife still lives, and the courts can't decide if his marriage is legal or not.

Resolute -- more resolute that I would have been! -- Elin adopts a more English name, Helena, and uses her skills in herbal medicine to impress Elizabeth. As she slowly gains Elizabeth's friendship, Elin finally marries but learns what the spark of true passion is like. She's witness to the greatest upheavals and personalities in Elizabeth's court, and is even party to one or two scandals.

Even though this is a novel of court life, Elin's less ambitious nature made her a comfortable guide for me. Observant, loyal, and well-placed (no need for intrigue and shenanigans!), Elin could have been just a little too perfect but came off rather darling, and I admit, I was smitten. Byrd's Elizabeth is shown in her complicated glory, mercurial and moody, and court life exhilarating and exhausting.

Faith and religion certainly showed up in this story, but the context and use of it in the story fit. Religion, and the state of one's soul, was certainly on everyone's minds during this time, and the appearance of prayers and Bible snippets felt appropriate, in character, and unobtrusive. The theme of faith -- having faith in one's family, especially -- was echoed throughout the story, both in Elin's personal life as well as Elizabeth's.

There's no sex in this book (unless lightly mentioned among married folk) so it could be a 'clean' novel but that certainly didn't diminish any excitement in the story nor take away from the romance. (If you've got a young or teen reader chomping at the bit to read 'adult' historical novels, consider this one.)

There are tons of extras in this one: pages of family trees to help with lineages and familial connections, a meaty Afterword where Byrd shares what is historical, conjecture, and her own invention, a reading group guide, and a wonderful interview with her.

Recommended for Tudor fans as Elin's story is fascinating and almost unbelievable; for those who might be Tudor'd out, consider this one if you a novel that touches on that world of religion and intrigue without getting mired in it.

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Roses Have Thorns and a handmade Elizabeth I pendant to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US readers only, ends 5/3.  See my interview with Sandra Byrd for another chance to enter.


  1. Yay! So glad you loved it! You know I'm not partial to the Tudors, but this series puts a very unique perspective on them. If you get a chance, go back and read the first two books. I enjoyed all three!

    1. I'm going to -- Ms Byrd kindly sent my wife a copy of The Secret Keeper so the moment she's done I'm wresting it from her hands! I love this angle -- knowing the monarch via those who serve -- and this one was such a pleasurable diversion!

  2. Like you, I am always terrified of books by Christian imprints, but some really awesome, not overtly faith-based fiction sometimes sneaks through, so I try not to let that stop me from reading good things. I'm hesitant to add more Tudors stuff to my TBR right now, but I might go look through Byrd's backlist and see if I find anything awesome-looking.

    1. I feel you on aaaaaaaaaaall of that and I will say, I enjoyed this sort of sidelong look at the Tudors -- Elizabeth is still crazycakes but I sort of felt some affection toward her...

  3. Hi Audra! Thank you so much for choosing to read and review my book! I know there are thousands that call out to readers and bloggers so I appreciate every person who picks the book up. I had great fun writing it (hope that shows) and I lol'd (punctuation for this? who knows?) at your cover insights. :)

    Jenny, you are an editorial gem. Christina, if you ever feel the desire to add more Tudor, I hope you'll give Roses a try. Even I get Tudor'd out sometimes, but Helena was fun to write about because she's pretty new, I think, to the Tudor book scene.

    1. Ms. Byrd, thank you for your kind words and for stopping by! The fun definitely came through -- it made for a wonderful escape. I can't wait to dig into the previous too -- plan to snuggle up with The Secret Keeper tonight -- I need to unplug from the news.

    2. Yeah, I thought about you today, near Boston, right? Stay safe!!

  4. I loved this novel as well! I loved the first two books as well and I can't wait to see what comes next.

    1. I'm going to be reading the previous two books stat!

  5. I need to read these books! I am a Tudor nut, and all of the others who have reviewed this one have loved it and said it was really good, so I am extra eager. I want to read the others in this series as well, though I know they don't have to be read in order. Ahh, so many good books out there, and so little time!! Excellent and wonderful post today, Audra!!

    1. Oh, if you're a Tudor nut, you are in luck! Elin is such a fascinating figure -- I'm kind of obsessed with her now! -- and this book was so good.

  6. " not inclined toward inspirational fiction."
    You mean all those fabulous reviews of mine haven't swayed you yet??!! I must think up some new ways to entice you.

    1. Well, if anyone would, it is you -- and I've got a v short list of titles from your reviews! If I do get converted, too, you can take all the credit!

  7. And yes, I do have a copy I intend on reading in the near future. When life slows down a second or so...

  8. Sounds really good. The use of religion, in this case, does sound fitting, because it was so important back then. Then again so was sex, but excluding that and focusing on the rest appears quite original for Tudor fiction.

  9. I read the first book in the Tudor series and loved it. I'm glad that Roses Have Thorns does not disappoint. I think I need to get back into this series. Thanks to your review, I'm going to try to get back into this series immediately.


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