Apr 26, 2013

Roses Have Thorns by Sandra Byrd


Intrigues of Elizabethan court via the love story of Helena Von Snakenborg

Roses Have Thorns by Sandra Byrd (book 3 in Ladies in Waiting)
Historical Romance/Tudor Fiction
Howard Books
Paperback 352 pages
Review copy provided by the author, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:4 stars


In 1565, seventeen-year-old Elin von Snakenborg leaves Sweden on a treacherous journey to England. Her fiance has fallen in love with her sister and her dowry money has been gambled away, but ahead of her lies an adventure that will take her to the dizzying heights of Tudor power. Transformed through marriage into Helena, the Marchioness of Northampton, she becomes the highest-ranking woman in Elizabeth’s circle. But in a court that is surrounded by Catholic enemies who plot the queen’s downfall, Helena is forced to choose between an unyielding monarch and the husband she’s not sure she can trust—a choice that will provoke catastrophic consequences.
Vividly conjuring the years leading up to the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots, Roses Have Thorns is a brilliant exploration of treason, both to the realm and to the heart.

Helena Von Snakenborg may be recognized by Elizabeth I aficionados as one of her closest friends/courtiers/ladies in waiting. In Sandra Byrd's third installment of the Ladies In Waiting series we are treated to the tried and true Elizabethan era shenanigans except now we get to learn a bit more about her favored lady, Elin from Sweden. I was intrigued in this title because my interest is in Christian historicals, and I wanted to see how the author blended an inspirational theme with Elizabeth's court.

Elin learns the ways of the court quickly as she decides to choose potential love in England instead of returning to Sweden with her family. She is about nineteen years old and has eyes for William Parr, but Parr is still married, unfortunately. Luckily for Elin she is welcomed by Elizabeth and she anglicizes her name to Helena and is given every comfort. Her high nobility for being associated with William Parr raises her status and she never has to worry for income as long as she remains under the fickle Elizabeth's favor. She manages well until she blunders in the name of love again.. all at a time when Elizabeth has forbidden her ladies to marry.

Major events and players are portrayed in this retelling of Elizabethan courts, from Lettice Knollys' marriage to Robert, Earl of Leicester, Francis Drake to the Mary Queen of Scots debacle. The difference this time is in learning more about Helena and how she managed to stay one step ahead of some of the other ladies at the court. Refreshingly, this telling helps humanize Elizabeth a bit more as we witness the relationship between Elizabeth and Helena and how it grows over the years. Although the novel covers a span of forty years, it certainly reads fast and there is no lull in the writing as there was always something going on from treachery in the courts to treachery in Helena's own house.

I would recommend Roses Have Thorns for those who would like to learn a bit more about Elizabethan life and more about Helena. There are biblical references but I would not wholeheartedly classify this as the inspirational sub-genre simply because the mission of  Inspirational Christian Fiction is supposed to glorify God through a biblical truth while exhibiting a strong theme in forgiveness/faith/redemption; perhaps with the characters debating whether their life is living towards God's will. There is a discernible difference from this title and my other reviewed inspirational titles but the element of a "clean read" could certainly apply here, as most christian fiction readers do require that in their reads.

If you happen to steer yourself away from Byrd's books because you fear a possible preachy biblical element, please do not, although she does use basic scripture as an added layer to Helena's turmoils in a "the bible tells me so" type of way. There is also the religious turmoil that occurs for the realm, the typical Catholic versus Protestant issues that Elizabeth had to deal with during her reign, as she attempted to not peer into men's souls regarding faith yet the factions were still evident during her reign, mostly because of the Catholic Mary of Scots. The practices of these faiths were a major source of contention in Elizabeth's time, and it is evident during this story as well. 

The author takes great pains to display the amount of knowledge she has gathered for the era and there are many details about the historical events that occur during the latter part of Elizabeth's reign. But the main crux is always Helena - her life and her loves, a rare glimpse of the fact that perhaps it wasn't so bad being the highest titled lady in the land next to Elizabeth. A book that features family lineage charts as well as a reading guide, this is an exemplary novel on Helena Von Snakenborg and her own love life, a lesser known figure in Elizabeth's court that I would recommend especially to those who are just learning their ways around Elizabeth's court.

On my other blog at HF-Connection the author was kind enough to offer an intriguing guest post regarding Elizabeth and her women, which you can read here, and it ties in a bit with the author's note as well.