This was my book group book for this month. It immediately appealed to me as some of the first words in the blurb are ‘Tudor England’. I love reading books set in this period so was really looking forward to it. It follows the story of Arabella Stuart, niece of Mary Queen of Scots and presumed succesor of Elizabeth I. In this position she is constantly vulnerable and threatened by the ever changing whims of the throne and those who hold power so is kept by her grandmother in near isolation, protected but also growing up with little experience of the real world. This is a story of Arabella’s growing realisation that simply because of who she was born to she is trapped in a world in which she has no choices. She begins to search for ways to control her own destiny. Arabellas story is interspersed with the story of Aemilia Layner, a writer and poet who despite having more independence is also trapped in a life she didn’t choose. Their stories intertwine in Arabellas attempt to take control of her own life.
I did really enjoy this book, partly because I read it on a lovely holiday in Northumberland, sitting in a window seat watching the seabirds in the estuary outside my window. The story itself was interesting, particularly Arabellas whom I knew nothing about before this. At times Aemilias’ story felt a bit unnecessary and distracting, lacking the strength of Arabellas. It also seemed to take a long time to become clear how the two stories were linked which was frustrating. Like most books based on real life characters you either know or can find out the ending before you get to it, I think the power in a book like this is having the reader hope for a different conclusion than the one they know is coming. The author achieves this here, allowing us to get into the head of Arabella, feel compassion for her and despite knowing the inevitable really want the best for her. It was a good holiday read that also illuminated the story of a lesser told member of the Tudor period so makes my good reads list.