Thursday, March 27, 2014

Book Review: Queen Elizabeth's Daughter by Anne Clinard Barnhill

Pages: 384
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: March 18, 2014
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Mistress Mary Shelton is Queen Elizabeth’s favorite ward, enjoying every privilege the position affords. The queen loves Mary like a daughter, and, like any good mother, she wants her to make a powerful match. The most likely prospect: Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. But while Oxford seems to be everything the queen admires: clever, polished and wealthy, Mary knows him to be lecherous, cruel, and full of treachery. No matter how hard the queen tries to push her into his arms, Mary refuses. Instead, Mary falls in love with a man who is completely unsuitable. Sir John Skydemore is a minor knight with little money, a widower with five children. Worst of all, he’s a Catholic at a time when Catholic plots against Elizabeth are rampant. The queen forbids Mary to wed the man she loves. When the young woman, who is the queen’s own flesh and blood, defies her, the couple finds their very lives in danger as Elizabeth’s wrath knows no bounds."
Mary Shelton is Queen Elizabeth's ward and not just any ward, but the ward that Elizabeth feels the closest to; in fact, many call her a favorite since she is Elizabeth's cousin.  Mary's parents both died when she was young, so living with Elizabeth is all she has ever known. She's accustomed to living like a royal in beautiful castles and having beautiful things.  Queen Elizabeth is determined to make a good match for Mary and although Mary should feel fortunate, instead she is worried.  The queen has her sights set on the Earl of Oxford, who at first glance, is charming, but Mary comes to find he is actually quite horrible.  Instead Mary has her eye on Sir John Skydemore, although it's an unlikely match. He's a widower, has many children and to top it off, he's Catholic. There's no way Queen Elizabeth will ever approve of him.  What will Mary do?  Anne Clinard Barnhill's Queen Elizabeth's Daughter is an interesting glimpse into the life of Mary Shelton, Queen Elizabeth's favorite ward.  Fans of historical fiction will enjoy reading a Tudor novel that isn't focused on the usual Henry VIII or Anne Boleyn.

While it's true many would view Mary as spoiled in Queen Elizabeth's Daughter, I actually felt for her. It must be really tough to not be able to fall in love and get married to the person of your choice and have Queen Elizabeth breathing down your neck. Queen Elizabeth wanted Mary to marry a prince and enjoyed reminding her to not fall in love, to remain chaste, and her future is one that she decides for her.  I have to imagine that this is a tough situation and although it could be much worse (she could have married Oxford), I felt that it's hard to put your future in someone else's hands, especially when it's Queen Elizabeth plotting your marriage.

Barnhill did a nice job of portraying Elizabeth as both maternal and tough in Queen Elizabeth's Daughter.  At times readers would see a side of her where she truly cares for Mary as a mother would and then other times readers were able to see her has a hard ruler and a selfish woman.  Also, in Queen Elizabeth's Daughter there are chapters that are from Elizabeth's point of view and I thought that this was helpful in order to further understand Elizabeth's motives since the rest of the chapters were from Mary's.  

I found parts of Queen Elizabeth's Daughter to be a tad predictable, but Mary's story was entertaining nonetheless. I have read a few novels focusing on Queen Elizabeth, but none have ever really gave any attention to her wards, so I found this to be a nice change. Also, Barnhill often referenced Mary Queen of Scots and touched on the issue of religion quite often in the novel. This also added to the realistic portrayal of the time period.  There's no doubt that Barnhill captured the tumultuous time of the Elizabethean Court quite well.  

If you are like me and you find the idea of being one of Queen Elizabeth's wards to be intriguing and you want to know what it would be like to live under her influence, then I urge you to read Queen Elizabeth's Daughter. To learn more about this novel, check back tomorrow for a guest post from Anne Clinard Barnhill about a favorite secondary character of mine!

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