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May 14, 2010

Book Review: All The Queen's Players by Jane Feather

All The Queen's Players by Jane Feather
Simon and Schuster
ISBN: 978-1-4165-2554-7
March 2010
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you
The Burton Review Rating:3 Stars

"At Queen Elizabeth’s palace, intrigue abounds. And when a naive girl with a gift for keen observation enters the court, she can hardly imagine the role she will play in bringing England—indeed, the whole of Europe—to the brink of war. Nor can she foresee her own journey to the brink of ecstasy and beyond. . . .

When she becomes a junior lady of Queen Elizabeth’s bedchamber, Rosamund is instructed by her cousin, the brilliant and devious secretary of state Sir Francis Walsingham, to record everything she observes. Her promised reward: a chance at a good marriage. But through her brother Thomas, Rosamund finds herself drawn to the forbidden, rough-and-tumble world of theatre, and to Thomas’s friend, the dramatic, impetuous playwright Christopher Marlowe. And then Rosamund meets Will Creighton—a persuasive courtier, poet, and would-be playwright who is the embodiment of an unsuitable match.

The unsanctioned relationship between Rosamund and Will draws the wrath of Elizabeth, who prides herself on being the Virgin Queen. Rosamund is sent in disgrace to a remote castle that holds Elizabeth’s cousin Mary Stuart, the imprisoned Queen of Scots. Here, Walsingham expects Rosamund to uncover proof of a plot against Elizabeth. But surely, nothing good can come of putting an artless girl in such close proximity to so many seductive players and deceptive games. Unless, of course, Rosamund can discover an affinity for passion and intrigue herself.. "
I have never read anything by Jane Feather before. I had an inkling that her style was more "romance" over the historical genre. Although pure romance novels are not my favorite, if they are paired with a good historical fiction writing style, I can find it enjoyable when I am in the right frame of mind. This is a mix that met that even requirement of romance in an intriguing historical fiction setting, namely within the Elizabethan courts, but some of the lines were tediously annoying that I feel it had to be mentioned. If you have the patience for a romance with some history, this is perfect. If you are having a week that is something close to hectic, this is a good comfort read that does not require 110% concentration. The heroine is Rosamund Walsingham, who is entirely fictional, but she is written in as the cousin to the true historical figure Sir Francis Walsingham, the Master Secretary to Queen Elizabeth I, who is also well known as the spymaster.

Rosamund was brought up in a sheltered home with little distractions until her esteemed cousin brings her to court. She soon gets caught up in flirtations which lead to romances which eventually lead to scandal. (Predictable.) This take up more than half of the novel. Rosamund is then used as a pawn amidst the plots against Mary Queen of Scots. Familiar names are being mentioned such as Savage, Babington and Lord Burghley. Familiar unease of the Protestants versus the Catholics. Nothing is heavy into these historical aspects as the primary feel of this novel is focused on Rosamund's character and her survival as a young woman without a dowry. Being told in third person, the actual empathy for Rosamund is thwarted a bit, as she can easily be blown off as a nincumpoop. Her dalliances within the court were warned against and yet it seemed within days she threw caution to the wind. A swift kick in the butt she needed but instead her penance was to bring her into the folds of treachery and spying against Queen Mary. It was there within the walls that imprisoned the Scots queen where Rosamund began to mature a bit and understand the force that her cousin Walsingham carried when she witnessed the torturous hangings of the conspirators against Queen Elizabeth I in the name of Queen Mary.

I really enjoyed the portrayal of Sir Francis Walsingham, and his wife Ursula. Ursula stepped in as a much-needed mother figure to Rosamund, and was supportive and helpful to her even when Rosamund could have easily been shunned as a result of her naive actions. Also very interesting was the character of Christopher "Kit" Marlowe who was a popular poet of the Elizabethan era. He is used as a lover to Rosamund's brother in the novel, as well as one of Walsingham's many spies in the Protestant networks, working to dispose of the threat of Mary Queen of Scots and her Catholic supporters. Marlowe is the subject of much debate, ranging from his sexual orientation to his spying, as well as whether or not he faked his death to assume the identity of William Shakespeare.

Jane Feather does write an interesting story, not entirely unpredictable, but it is not a complete waste of time. The title refers to the plays that occur at the Elizabethan court, which is a topic through out the novel as well as Rosamund's talent for artistic endeavors. It also refers to the networks of political supporters to Queen Elizabeth as they strive to rid the realm of the threat within Mary of Scots. The sexual content is prevalent immediately, and it never does go away, so if you are not looking for some typical romantic themes I would advise against it. I would recommend this as a perfect read to wile away a gloomy day. Even though I normally stay away from romances, I managed to enjoy this enough to keep going, when the last read I was plodding through needed to be put down. Those interested in the machinations against Mary Queen of Scots would appreciate the plot lines that Jane Feather has produced in All the Queen's Players.

Also provided at the end of the novel are a reading group guide, author's note, bibliography and a Q&A with the author.

Incidentally, those readers who are more interested in Sir Francis Walsingham, the man behind the politics of Queen Elizabeth I, there is a book titled Francis Walsingham, Spymaster by Derek Wilson that was recently published, which I have on my wishlist. Also, an earlier book is out titled Elizabeth's Spymaster:Francis Walsingham and the Secret War That Saved England, by Robert Hutchinson.

John de Critz the Elder, Sir Francis Walsingham, c. 1587
This read is also perfect for the Tudor Mania Challenge! Have you recently reviewed a Tudor themed book? See my post here on how to enter the challenge and compete for your chance to win a book of your choice.