Tuesday, June 7, 2011

To Ruin a Queen by Fiona Buckley

Fiona Buckley continues her excellent Elizabethan series featuring Lady Ursula Faldene Blanchard La Roche in To Ruin a Queen. Buckley advances Ursula’s life, marriage to Matthew La Roche and her daughter Meg, but it seems that Elizabeth I cannot do anything without tricking Ursula into investigating threats to her throne. She knows that Queen Elizabeth is cunning and devious but still finds herself brought into a pit of treachery and treason.

After she loses a son in childbirth in France, she longs to have her daughter Meg, still in England, back with her. Ursula sends her loyal servants, Dale and Brockley to fetch her, but they return empty-handed. Meg is missing.

Ursula immediately departs for England, suspecting that Elizabeth is somehow behind her daughter’s mysterious disappearance. She doesn’t have to wait long. When she arrives at the manor where Meg was staying, Elizabeth and Cecil are waiting.

The queen tells her where Meg is, but there is a mystery at Castle Vetch as well. Elizabeth knows Ursula can’t resist unraveling a complicated knot of conspiracy and intrigue, but to sweeten the pot, she promises to return lands confiscated from Matthew. Ursula promises the queen two weeks, then she will return to France with Meg.

The Castle Vetch is occupied by the innately ambitious Mortimers. The mother of the lord in residence is convinced her son is plotting something against the crown, since he keeps hinting at it. She has no idea what it is.

Ursula is charged with finding out if there is anything to Mortimer’s boasts. When she arrives, she finds Meg in good condition so she sets out to uncover the secrets of Mortimer.

She finds out there is a lot more going on than plots against Elizabeth: an aging woman desperate to cling to her youth, an old crone accused of being a witch, a lovesick girl promised to an older man and two manservants fiercely loyal to their lady.

It seems to me that Buckely inserts more Tudorian history into this story than before with references to Anne Boleyn and her purported lover Mark Smeaton. She also gives a clearer insight as to what Elizabeth’s thoughts on love, marriage and family might have been since the queen remained unmarried throughout her reign. How would she have regarded someone’s sense of family through love and devotion, something she may not have experience personally since her father beheaded her mother on baseless rumors. This paints a plausible picture of a grand woman often portrayed as cold, tough and ruthless. It’s good to see the woman underneath the crown, and not just the queen.

To Ruin a Queen raises the bar on Elizabethan mysteries, although the whodunit was a tad predictable. However, Buckely does leave the reader with a tantalizing and surprising taste of the supernatural at the end.

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