Sunday, April 08, 2012

I, Elizabeth - Rosalind Miles

”The silence in the chamber grew until it echoed like thunder in the booklined space. In the tight circle of grave old faces, not a one flickered. At last the oldest and the gravest there laid down the document, shook his head, and spoke. 'You have her, madam - there can be no doubt.' I turned my head. Behind the ranks of gray-wigged, black-robed figures, beyond the little window of the Temple, fresh white clouds scudding like rabbits' bobtails chased each other across a shining sky. On such a day of any other summer, Robin and I would have been ahorse, afield, chasing and racing too. But he was far away, and here I sat, a prisoner like Mary, who at last had brought me here.”

Elizabeth Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII, lived through and ruled over one of the most interesting periods in England’s history. She lent her name to the era, the Elizabethan period and lived to see her country’s religion turned on its head for lust of her mother, the death of her father, his other four wives and her two siblings as well as birth of the English Renaissance and the Spanish Armada defeated. She had to defend herself not only from threats abroad from the Church of Rome and other foreign powers but from her own subjects and council who wished she were Catholic or a man or that she would marry and produce a male heir.

I’ve always been a fan of this period in history. It was the time of Shakespeare and global exploration. The monarch was almost absolute and the Tudor family are the closest you can get to a Renaissance soap opera. In fact, Elizabeth only exists due to a random set of circumstances where Prince Arthur died and his brother Henry married his widow Katherine of Aragon, became Henry VIII and turned out to be totally cuckoo-bananas. That’s why I was excited to see that this is a book written in the voice of Elizabeth. Of course, we can’t truly know what she thought about many things but Miles incorporates words from speeches and letters to inform us of her opinion about people and events, lending authenticity to the voice and diction of the story.

I enjoyed reading about her life from under her father to after the Spanish Armada. This long stretch of time allows readers to see her opinions as a person and monarch evolve over time, how she was always on guard against dangers to her person. Readers continuously see how her father, even long after his death influences her life and how political intrigue shaped her actions as queen.

The POV is interesting because the author writes as Elizabeth writing the story of her life and covers the various stages of her existence. My main problem with this POV is that Miles has Elizabeth interrupt her own story with input from the present. Her reflections are not only spoilery but they disrupt the flow of the book. As a reader familiar with Elizabeth’s story it wasn’t as bothersome as it could have been but what if I knew nothing about her? Foreshadowing can create suspense but the way it’s done here it undercuts the tension. I don’t want commentary from present Elizabeth commenting on past Elizabeth’s decisions and feelings about Robert Deveraux, Earl of Essex. It makes their relationship less interesting when I have an idea of what happens in the end. If anything I think the story might have been more effective to keep the POV as Elizabeth but keep it in present tense. Let the reader and Elizabeth experience events at the same time to create suspense and conflict. Let everything be a surprise, whether it be a delight or a terror.

If you're a fan of books about the Tudors and Elizabeth I I would recommend this book.

Review: 3.5/5

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