Legacy, Susan Kay
This book came highly recommended by fellow bloggers and the ladies over at Goodreads and I was quite excited to finally get it from Paperbackswap.com (go...join...its awesome!). It is a fast read and kept me turning pages frantically even though I know Elizabeth's history very well.
Legacy covers the life of Elizabeth I from birth until her death and it seems to mainly focus on her relationships with the men in her life - namely Robert Dudley, William Cecil, and Essex. Despite knowing how history turns out, the way Kay has written it made it a page turner. Even though a few of the plot twists that she added didn't really mesh with other novels I have read on Elizabeth they did not detract from the story and probably added to some of the suspense. The ending was very touching as it gives you the feeling that Elizabeth and Dudley were finally able to be together.
The characterization of the main players are fairly consistent with how they are portrayed in other works. There were only a few things that stood out to me and made me raise an eyebrow. The first was the constant reference to the possibility of Elizabeth being a witch. Yes, her mother, Anne Boleyn, was accused of witchcraft but I can't remember reading anywhere that anyone other than her enemies thought Elizabeth might be a witch as well. Dudley seems to be the one constantly mentioning it, wondering if she has a second sight since she always seems to know how events are going to turn out. I can understand how people could have thought this about Elizabeth; woman weren't supposed to have a brain in their heads at that time and it was probably unimaginable that a Queen would be intelligent enough to accurately assume the outcome of a situation. She also came across as having this extremely dark and almost evil side to her nature. This seemed a bit odd to me as I am sure Elizabeth would have been ruthless at times to protect herself and her kingdom but I have never found anything that portrayed her as "evil." Other than the evil, witchy aspect, Elizabeth's character is very believable and very well written.
Something else that caused me to raise an eyebrow was how Kay portrayed Cecil's relationship with Elizabeth, making it seem like he thought he might be bewitched since his attachment to her is so strong. At times is almost seemed like he might have been in love with her. Anytime he was asked why he was so devoted to his Queen he couldn't answer. I didn't have a problem with the way Kay decided to write out their relationship, it was just intriguing and quite different from everything I've read previously.
As for the other two main men in her life, Dudley and Essex, their portrayals here don't stand out as very different from the way they come across in other works, though at times I did think that Dudley seemed a bit weak, which is something I've never thought about him before. The relationship between him and the Queen really was touching at times as they could not over come their individual prides to admit their feelings to each other. Elizabeth's Queenship was also a huge stumbling block, of course. Essex really seems like an arrogant, self-centered young man who gets his just desserts in the end; he really was "asking for it" the whole time.
The other characters in the story behave in the manner that I would have expected and there were no raised eyebrows over any of their actions. That certainly did not take away from the overall story whatsoever though. It was extremely well written, had wonderful characters, incredible emotions, and an overall storyline that really kept me immersed in their lives. I was surprised that I could feel suspense in a work about Elizabeth's life but it was there and I liked that. This could have easily fallen into the "just another book on Elizabeth" category but it didn't and I think that is the sign of a good author; she took material that is very well known to people and kept it interesting and exciting. While Miles' I, Elizabeth is, for me, the best novel about Elizabeth, I thoroughly enjoyed this one and I could not put it down!