Chase, Ella March
The Virgin Queen's Daughter
Crown Publishers, New York, 2008, 352 pp.
When I read historical novels, I don't usually ok for "Tudor/Elizbethan"-themed material. For one thing, the entire period seems to me to be overdone. I mean, how many more angles on Elizabeth I or Henry VIII can you have? Yet this is a popular period, partly because of the sheer abundance of material about the famous people and events therein. Some writers consider this "easy", and proceed to write what is essentially biographical fiction. For the record, I'm not all that fond of biographical fiction about people of any period, mainly because the storyline tends to be, well, predictable -- that is, unless the person is extremely obscure.
It was therefore with some trepidation that I picked this book out of the library and started reading it. On the one hand, the life of Elizabeth I along with the way her personality and the events of the period -- for England, at least -- meshed, are so well-known to anybody who is interested in the period at all, that they hardly bear comment. On the other hand, the "Virgin Queen" was psychologically very complex, and at the same time very vulnerable. She lost her mother, the tragic Anne Boleyn, at the age of three, and then was declared illegitimate by Henry VIII(another outsized, but fictionally overdone character), and considered more or less not very important, especially when her half brother Edward VI, was born. After all, he was the son Henry had been trying for. Unfortunately, he didn't live long enough to achieve much, except under the guidance of his advisers, established the "reformed religion", which eventually became what Americans know as the Episcopal Church, in England. He was succeeded by his half-sister Mary Tudor, who was unabashedly Catholic and her reign ushered in the persecution of everyone who wasn't Catholic, with the enthusiastic help of Spain. None of this helped Elizabeth, who was essentially raised in what people then called the "reformed religion"; in fact, she was considered a definite threat to her sister Mary.
All of this forms the background to Ella March Chase's The Virgin Queen's Daughter, which actually turned out to be a very interesting read. From my reading, Ms. Chase has striven to get the "flavor" of both the times, and of the complexity of Elizabeth herself, right, and in this, judging by what little I know about the period and the person, I think she managed quite well, in some ways. The central character is not Elizabeth herself -- or I would not be reviewing this book -- but rather a young woman called Elinor de Lacey, who has been brought up as an only child by a "bookish" father and an apparently distant mother. She gets affection and psychological sustenance from a nurse called Hephzibah Jones, and from her father, who encourages her to think. But she longs to become part of the court of Elizabeth I, and eventually, she does get her wish. Unfortunately, she has never heard that you should be careful what you wish for, because you might get it, and so she ends up being thrust into the intrigues of Elizabeth's court, where men vie for the queen's attention, and women vie for the men who vie for the attentions of their queen. It very soon becomes apparent that there is some mystery about Elinor, and this mystery arouses all sorts of suspicions, including those of Queen Elizabeth herself, due to a very unfortunate incident when she was a young girl. Once the mystery is put in place, the tale becomes more and more of a "cat and mouse" game as Elinor and Gabriel Wyatt, a man who first antagonizes her, but whom she eventually comes to love, match wits with those who mean both of them ill.
It is, therefore, in my opinion, a very good story, and worth the read. But there are some glaring mistakes of either usage or spelling, which make me wonder about some issues I won't go into in this post, but will save for another one. One of the most glaring mistakes is, she misspells the name of Hans Holbein the Younger. This man painted the famous portrait of Henry VIII that "everybody" seems to know, and get their images of that particular person from. I thought at first, it might be a typographical error; even in these days of computer-generated printing, such things still happen. But she mentioned Holbein two or three times, and each time, the name was spelled wrong. She also seems to have trouble recognizing the difference between homonyms(words that sound the same but have different meanings), in particular "flare"(e.g. a fire that flares up or an argument that flares up) and "flair", meaning an aptitude for something. She also mentions something about "green Lincoln cloth", which is probably more forgivable, since the phrase "Lincoln green" is assumed to mean some sort of green color. I would not have caught this unless another historical writer, in a book I read several years back, mentioned that "Lincoln green" was actually a type of weave created in medieval times, in the city of Lincoln, which was at one time famous for its cloth. "Lincoln green" was often dyed red! Most readers, however, will probably not even notice this.
Overall, though, I find The Virgin Queen's Daughter an enjoyable read. I think that Ms. Chase may well have more material up her sleeve, and if she learns to consult a dictionary and watch out for details like "Lincoln green", she has a nice future as a good historical novelist ahead of her. I will be very interested to see what she comes up with in the future.