Review: Elizabeth I: A Novel by Margaret George

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What’s It About?

This is a historical novel about the last 45 years of Elizabeth I’s life and reign over England.  Told from the perspectives of Elizabeth herself and Laetitia (Lettice) Knollys, Elizabeth’s rival and cousin once removed, the two women must each face their own battles and feelings – one to reign, and one to forever struggle to get back to court.  This is a highly researched novel, which brings life to some of the more mundane aspects of the ‘Golden Age’ of monarchy, love, and politics.

My Thoughts:

It is only recently that I have started becoming interested in reading historical fiction.  I have always liked history; not the remembering of names and dates, but discovering how people lived, and historical fiction is a doorway for my mind.  Unfortunately this novel, in some ways, felt like reading a textbook with plenty of names that seemed almost familiar and dates of battles, although most of this information was portrayed through dialogue which made it easier to follow.  Nethertheless, in my opinion, the detail to facts was almost clinical throughout most of the book, which made the book a lot less pleasurable to read.

The book is told in split first person.  Personally I found the ‘Lettice’ character much easier to understand and follow, and therefore more relatable to.  Elizabeth, on the other hand, was too much like reading facts with no life behind them.  I realise this is probably due in large part to the fact that no one really knows how Elizabeth felt about anything, but it did make reading from her point of view almost nothing more than a series of events, and I found it impossible to empathise with her.  However, the book starts with a few scenes to set the time, and I didn’t realise that Elizabeth wasn’t the only perspective the book would be told from until quite late in as the novel isn’t evenly spread between the two.

The research that has gone into the book, however, has to be mentioned.  At 662 pages it is far from a short read, and every page is filled with the details of the women’s lives, as well as the many key men in their lives, which I can only imagine must have taken years to research.

Personally this wasn’t my favourite historical read ever, but I did feel I was learning (seriously, my history knowledge is truly appalling), and feel this book has a unique perspective in not only using first person, but telling it from two points of view.  Of course, due to the nature of the book, there isn’t really a plot to follow and I think that may have made reading a little arduous for me at times; however I wanted to read more for the majority of it.  I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and isn’t afraid to dedicate a decent block of time to reading it (it took me 2 weeks to read).

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

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