The Virgin’s Lover (Tudor Court) by Philippa Gregory (Touchstone, 2004, 448pp.)
Most British history buffs will be familiar with the name of Robert Dudley, one of Elizabeth I’s many court favorites. Here, Gregory explores the sultry romance that might haven taken place between them during the first unsteady years of the Virgin Queen’s reign. A man of insurmountable pride and ambition, Dudley is bold enough to see himself as future king. His efforts are complicated by his 11-year-old marriage to his faithful, childish wife Amy, who refuses to boost him to glory by allowing him to divorce her. His chances at success plunge when Amy dies under suspicious circumstances--a crime which to this day remains unsolved. Once again, Gregory turns history into a fresh, engaging story that is difficult to put down. Unfortunately, although the plot itself is absorbing, her main characters just aren’t that likable. While the three main characters who form the story’s love triangle are understandable in their motives, they lack the charisma that protagonists need to ensnare the reader’s sympathy. Elizabeth, historically portrayed as a ferocious female leader, is turned into a simpering lover who constantly bemoans how she can’t live without Dudley by her side. She counts on him to govern her every decision, and blames her constant, faithful advisor, William Cecil, when things go awry. Dudley himself is arrogant. The line between his ambition and the true affection he feels for Elizabeth is blurred, making his motivations unclear. As for Amy, whose suffering is enough to make her a candidate for martyrdom, she becomes both admirable and extremely pathetic in her staunch efforts to keep her marriage afloat. A novel with an absorbing plot that will keep the reader turning the pages--just as long as they don’t let the characters annoy them too much.
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