Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Review: Elizabeth I by Margaret George

★★★★ 1/2

Book Source: I received a copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Publish Date: April 5, 2011

Book Synopsis: One of today’s premier historical novelists, Margaret George dazzles here as she tackles her most difficult subject yet: the legendary Elizabeth Tudor, queen of enigma—the Virgin Queen who had many suitors, the victor of the Armada who hated war; the gorgeously attired, jewel-bedecked woman who pinched pennies. England’s greatest monarch has baffled and intrigued the world for centuries. But what was she really like?

In this novel, her flame-haired, look-alike cousin, Lettice Knollys, thinks she knows all too well. Elizabeth’s rival for the love of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and mother to the Earl of Essex, the mercurial nobleman who challenged Elizabeth’s throne, Lettice has been intertwined with Elizabeth since childhood. This is a story of two women of fierce intellect and desire, one trying to protect her country, and throne, the other trying to regain power and position for her family. Their rivalry, and its ensuing drama, soon involves everyone close to Elizabeth, from the famed courtiers who enriched the crown to the legendary poets and playwrights who paid homage to it with their works. Intimate portraits of the personalities who made the Elizabethan age great—Shakespeare, Marlowe, Dudley, Raleigh, Drake—fill these pages, giving us an unforgettable glimpse of a queen who ruled as much from the heart as from the head, and considered herself married to her people.

This magnificent, stay-up-all-night page-turner is George’s finest and one that is sure to delight readers of Alison Weir, Philippa Gregory, and Hilary Mantel.

My Review: Yes! I’ve finally finished this brick of a book! I think I started reading this book in May and I just finished it yesterday. I swear this was a big accomplishment because it was 671 pages long. Anyway on to the review portion…

This novel tells the story of Elizabeth I as an older woman who is struggling to cope with the fact that she is getting older and is beginning to lose her virgin looks and is having difficulty seeing. She doesn’t want any of her maids or her courtiers to know how quickly she is aging because she doesn’t want to be vulnerable to them and she is adamant about not naming her heir for fear of her people looking at her heir for guidance when she has not yet met her maker. The novel also tells the later life of Lettice Knollys, the Queen’s banished cousin and the mother of the treasonous Earl of Essex.

Ok so I had very high expectations for Elizabeth I because Margaret George is a genius when it comes to writing Historical Fiction! Well the book started off with the battle between England and Philip of Spain’s Spanish Armada. I must admit I was disappointed with the beginning of this book. I feel I like I just flipped a bunch of pages and started reading so I didn’t really know what was going on at first. Yes I am very familiar with the Spanish Armada and King Philip of Spain, but there was no opening or setting of the stage for the battle. I just think it was a poor place to start the story line not to mention very dry and boring to start with.

At first, I didn’t much care for the fact that the story was centered on Elizabeth’s later life as Queen of England; however, as the story progressed I later realized that I’m glad it was about her later years because most stories about Elizabeth are about her coming to the throne and declaring herself married to England and her love affair with Robert Dudley. George does visit this point in Elizabeth’s life in a creative way, which totally makes up for it. I found Lettice’s story a bit boring and at some points annoying, but I will let you be the judge of her life.

My opinion: Over all I loved this book! I loved learning about the Earl of Essex and the Irish War. I got to see a different side of Queen Elizabeth through Margaret’s work. She’s older and wiser in her later years not to mention a bit temperamental and irritable. The book had a lot of slow points and I hated the beginning, which made me give the novel 4.5 instead of 5 stars. It’s not an easy read and it takes patients and time to get through all of it so if you’re looking for a fast paced read about Elizabeth then this isn’t it. But if you love learning and or reading about Queen Elizabeth’s life and want to get to know her on a deeper level then this book is highly recommended!


  1. I also just finished the book, after a slow start. It struck me that George herself, now in her 60s or 70s, identified a new side of Elizabeth and because of George's own age, she could write with understanding. As a reader turning 50, I understand too the realization that, oops, you aren't 30 anymore, that times are different and it is sometimes unsettling. George captured this really, really well and it is what I liked best about the book.

    I thought the book was very sympathetic to Essex, but I had to Google Philip Sydney to understand more about him and his significance.

    Not a fan of Lettice prior to this, I'm not sure I came away with a better feeling about her, try as I might.

    I still think Henry VIII and Mary, Queen of Scots are George's best works - I liked this, but I think it could've been a bit shorter!

  2. @ Anonymous
    I agree I think this book could have been a bit shorter. There were some scenes that I think could have been cut out to make it flow better and keep the readers attention.

    I hated Essex in no way did I feel sorry for him because he was utterly crazy and wrapped up into his own self.

    I've never read Mary, Queen of Scots but I do have Henry VIII on my TBR shelf right now but I think I'm going to cool it on the long tedious novels for awhile lol

  3. Ooooh I really want to read this one. I've heard some really great things and you confirmed it. Fab-tastic review!

  4. Great review, Taylor. I think this novel is the best one out there on Elizabeth I, and I especially liked the fact that the focus was on the later years of her reign. I've read too many novels that put Elizabeth's 'love' life at the forefront of the story, but I'd much rather read about what she did to be considered one of England's greatest monarchs. I think George definitely achieved this.

  5. @ Melissa and Alexis

    Thanks for the kind comments!

  6. It also took me awhile to read this book, only because of it's heft. It became my kitchen table book because it was heavy for me. I committed to read 50 pages a day so I could have it done in time for review. I did enjoy the book. I love anything about Elizabeth I and I also found her later life interesting as there is not a lot written about this time in her life. Great review!!

  7. I enjoyed your post. It’s a lot like college – we should absorb everything we can but ultimately you need to take what you’ve learned and apply it.