Wednesday, May 15, 2013
My Review of Roses Have Thorns
Here's a description of the book from Howard Books:
"In 1565, seventeen-year-old Elin von Snakenborg leaves Sweden on a treacherous journey to England. Her fiancé has fallen in love with her sister and her dowry money has been gambled away, but ahead of her lies an adventure that will take her to the dizzying heights of Tudor power. Transformed through marriage into Helena, the Marchioness of Northampton, she becomes the highest-ranking woman in Elizabeth’s circle.
But in a court that is surrounded by Catholic enemies who plot the queen’s downfall, Helena is forced to choose between her unyielding monarch and the husband she’s not sure she can trust—a choice that will provoke catastrophic consequences.
A rich, tautly woven tale of love, deception, and grace, Roses Have Thorns vividly conjures the years leading up to the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots and is a brilliant exploration of treason, both to the realm and to the heart."
Sandra Byrd's "Ladies in Waiting" series is a three-course banquet of historical delicacies. The research is rich and the scope is solid. Roses Have Thorns, the conclusion to the series, is similar in flavor to its two predecessors but is also a well-written tale in its own right.
Part of that similar "flavor," if you will, made it a little difficult for me to be completely swept away by these stories. I admire them and I enjoyed them, but the determination to cover so much time and so many events made the books feel more like documentaries with extended anecdotes than, say, Saturday-night movies. Certainly interesting, but not quite as personally captivating as it might be if the reader had more focused time with the characters in one place vs. always being on the move from one place to the next and from one year to the next.
But that's the nature of these books and these characters - there's just so much to tell in such a short amount of time! And Byrd tells it well. Roses Have Thorns covers about twenty-five years of Queen Elizabeth's reign (close to forty if you count the epilogue). And yet, while that may seem rushed, the flow of the story actually feels a little slow - not really in a slow-paced way, but in the sense that it's so epic and feels so long. At least for me, it took a while to finish the book.
The journey is certainly rich, though. Recurring themes, admirable sacrifices contrasted with very human emotions and tendencies, interesting myths and fables, uncertain loyalties, mystery, romance...it's all mixed in there, with the religious divisions and confusion of a kingdom serving as a suspenseful and fitting backdrop to personal divisions and confusion.
Elin's/Helena's love life kept me intrigued and often took surprising turns. The men in her life didn't always do right by her, in my opinion, but then, Helena wasn't always perfect, either. Byrd does a great job of showing how all of those in such high positions were truly human. (Although I must add that I don't know if I could handle the workings of high society and court life back then! So much to remember...so much to watch out for and to hold back...)
Roses Have Thorns is a long but beautiful glimpse into the end of the Tudor era. It uses lofty language and grand imagery to convey a story of flawed characters who don't get things perfectly, but who try to do the best that they are able as they seek faith and love and duty.
*With much gratitude to the author for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for my honest opinion.*