I finished the first of my Transworld Historical Fiction Challenge read last night, and as part of the challenge I need to submit a review.

The Queen’s Secret by Victoria Lamb is set during Tudor times as Queen Elizabeth I reigns. The book cover suggests that  ” Desire and power collide in the court of Elizabeth I” , and this was covered throughout the novel.

The plot stats with Queen Elizabeth and her court travelling to Kenilworth Castle, the home of her close friend and suspected lover Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester. As you are introduced to Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, also known as Robin – you can feel the chemistry between them as Victoria Lamb  explores and expands on  their relationship.

The introduction of the third wheel in the relation  Lettice , the married Countess of Essex not only risks Robert Dudley’s place in court , but brings about jealousy and revenge from the queen.The one fact that is affecting the would be relationship of Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, is her reluctance to give herself wholly to him. The main reason is the risk of her loosing the throne and her status as Queen of England if she marries Robert Dudley. This is a huge bone of contentment and a driving force in the ongoing relationship that Robert Dudley has with Lettice.The Queen and Lettice are both jealous of each other, but Lettice also is envious of the Queen’s entitlement to the throne and has a resentful attitude to her for this as well as her flirtatious and  very private relationship with Robert Dudley and her influence over him. In the background of the plot , whilst the Queen and her court are at Kenilworth Castle there are attempts on her life continuously that Robert Dudley is aware of . Dudley tries to discover who is behind the attacks on the Queen’s life and this is were you are  introduced to an integral character to the story Lucy Morgan. a young black singer and court entertainer.

Lucy Morgan has Master Goodluck as her guardian. Master Goodluck has a travelling troupe of players and acrobats , and is adept in disguising himself when needed and is known as a spy. Master Goodluck becomes involved in trying to discover who has a plot against the Queen’s life, that not only riskes his life, but also his ward Lucy.

Lucy is swept up into the court of Queen Elizabeth’s and becomes a go-between for Robert Dudley and Lettice at Dudley’s request and during some of these delievring of notes and messages, she  risks her life as she discovers spies and threats on the queen by accident. When introduced to the Queen by Robert Dudley, the Queen asks or commands her to spy on dudley and Lettice, and to report back to her of any events or messages that occur or delivered. Lucy struggles with this as she is torn by her loyalty between the queen and Dudley . During her time at Kenilworth Castle Lucy starts to grow into a young woman as she meets Tom a fellow black servant working for Robert Dudley, and a friendship starts to blossom , verging onto a relationship.

The book for me has been a lovely read, the characters insightful, interesting and all leaping off the page. I feel that Victoria Lamb has captured the torturous and risky relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley in my mind perfectly.. Her reluctance to give up her throne to a man, demonstrates her strong opinions and stubborn determination that only she will be a ruler of England in her own right.  Their relationship is displayed as sexy, frustrative not only for their emotional and sexual needs , but also in relation to court etiquette and how they are expected to behave as Queen and Earl of Leicester.

The relationship between Lettice and Dudley is well written, and you cannot but help to feel sorry for the manipulative Lettice as her world falls apart in so many ways. Her emotional hold on Dudley is threatened as his status in court and relationship with the Queen is continually fragile and somewhat destructive at his own hands.

Queen Elizabeth is portrayed just as I imagined her. A powerful monarch and woman, who knows what she wants and won’t let it be risked however much it affects her. You can see that she loves Robert Dudley, but there is also an element of distrust of his loyalty to her. The private scenes in the Queen’s chamber are evocative , and subtly written and hints at a sexual relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and Dudley , leading to a sensitive moment of personal pleasure on both their parts. This however leads Dudley into false security, that is ruined by the Queen’s jealousy and his hot temper and the need for more,

The attempted assasination plot is slow going, and I feel that it never rose to the climax I was expecting. I would liked to have seen more decription and adventure occuring , though the experiences and situations that Lucy appeared to get herself in, were instrumental to the plot. 

Though I enjoyed the book, I would like to have seen more in the plot about the attempts on the Queen and maybe less of the relationship of Dudley and Lettice. The introduction of Lucy and the author’s develpment of her character was lovely. The character was likeable, and had a moralistic  view for someone so young, especially when placed as spy in two different situations.. Lucy was placed into a difficult position by the Queen and Dudley, yet throughout she stayed true to herself and her beliefs.

The descriptions of Tudor time and of the way court life was experienced was fascinating as you got to see the many different social standings and how they crossed over at times. As a a reader fascinated by Tudor history and King’s and queen’s of England, this book satisfied my thirst for contiuned knowledge of how that time period could of been lived. The ending has been left open, maybe for a continuation of the storyline of Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley! If another book by Victoria Lamb appears on the bookshelf contuining the story of their relationship, then I would gladly read it. However I did find the ending intriguing as the identity of the assassin was a unexpected surprise , as was the loss of a loved character.

I would recommend this book to anybody who wants to read it, if they are a fan of historical notes or in general the life and times of Queen E lizabeth !.

The jump into the epilogue felt a little rushed and unexplained as the court arrived back into London , but some loose ends were tied up , ensuring that the book could be finished with satisfaction for the reade.