Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Legacy by Susan Kay

There's just something about Elizabethan England that keeps me interested in books about the period. This one is a novel, Legacy by Susan Kay.

I've read a lot of books about Elizabeth I, both history and fiction, and I think this is the best historical novel I ever read about her.

Legacy won both Britain's Georgette Heyer Historical Novel Prize and the Betty Trask Prize for a first novel, and deservedly so. Kay's story is highly readable and presents Elizabeth I as multi-talented, politically shrewd, enigmatic, emotionally stunted, and conflicted. 

The deaths of her mother and stepmother, Catherine Howard, combined with the erratic and often abusive treatment she received as a child from her father who was sometimes loving, sometimes distant, sometimes threatening and never predictable are presented by Kay as the reason for Elizabeth's conflicted relationships with the three men she loved most in her life.

Robert Dudley, undoubtedly Elizabeth's strongest relationship, is introduced early in the novel as one of her nursery playmates. He continues to be her most trusted friend throughout the dangerous period between the death of her father and the death of her older sister, Queen Mary. Kay depicts Dudley as a multi-faceted character who truly loved the Queen and was frustrated by her refusal to marry him.

I won't spoil the novel for you by giving away the last chapter, but I found it quite moving, albeit fanciful.

Fans of historical fiction, particularly of the Tudor period, will enjoy Legacy.

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