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
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.
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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.