The Virgin's Lover, Philippa Gregory
I was excited to find this book in an airport bookstore as I enjoyed TOBG (entertainment wise and interesting characters) and I love reading anything I can get my hands on about Elizabeth I so I settled down with this one on the flight home. I wanted to throw it out the window and see it land in a river somewhere between Shreveport and Atlanta. It was horrible. While I have said before that Gregory's works are good just for entertainment value and characters interesting enough to keep you wanting to read about them, she must have been on medication while writing this book. I kept reading because I kept telling myself it had to get better at some point. It didn't.
This installment of Gregory's Tudor series covers the first couple of very dangerous and uncertain years of Elizabeth I's reign. There are two storylines running parallel to each other in this: Elizabeth and Robert Dudley's story at court and then Robert's story with his wife Amy. Gregory goes back and forth throughout the novel letting the reader see what Amy's life is like being the cast off and unwanted wife of a very ambitious man and what Elizabeth is having to deal with as she tries to keep ahold of her crown. Elizabeth's close advisor William Cecil plays a big part in this telling as well. The novel drags on for 400 something pages with Robert's schemes to marry Elizabeth and to get Cecil out of the way, Amy's hysterical outbursts at everyone, courtiers threatening to kill Dudley, Cecil trying to save his Queen, etc, etc. There was not one interesting thing in this book - no interesting plot twist, no mystery, nothing. It seems like Gregory was trying to write for a bunch of rowdy teenagers who wanted to read nothing but sex on every other page.
The way Gregory portrays the main characters in this book are absolutely horrible and so totally OUT of character from the way history usually portrays them. I understand authors taking creative license and I don't mind that but really? A Queen Elizabeth who giggles constantly, can't make one rational decision without Dudley, and who acts like a complete airhead? I don't think so. Yes, Elizabeth is documented as being vain and a flirt but she used it to successfully control her council, her suitors, and her enemies. She was a highly intelligent woman who knew what she needed to do to keep her crown; there is no sign of that woman in this Elizabeth. She was very determined not to let a man run her life and I find it hard to believe that she wouldn't have been able to think straight and make a coherent decision about her realm without Dudley being nearby. Gregory makes her seem like a valley girl! Robert Dudley comes across even worse (which is hard to believe). I found myself hating him for his over-the-top ambition and most especially his arrogance. I'm sure the real Dudley was ambitious and wanted to get all he could but I don't think anywhere in history is it recorded that he was as sly, sneaky, possessive, domineering, arrogant, and down right mean as Gregory portrays him. I really can't see the real Robert Dudley getting into a screaming match with his wife in the middle of the road in front of others. As much as I wanted to shake Elizabeth for being such an idiot I wanted to punch Dudley full in the face and I was quite happy to see him deprived of his dream at the end.
The only two characters that weren't butchered, in my opinion, were William Cecil and Amy Dudley. Cecil seems to act the way I would expect him to, having spies everywhere to make sure he knows what's going on in the realm, trying to guide Elizabeth, being horrified at Dudley influence over her, etc. However, there is so much more to him and his character really could have been expanded more; he was really one dimensional. What was a bit intriguing was Gregory's take on how Cecil had a hand in Amy Dudley's fate; as it is still a mystery even to this day what really happened it was an interesting road for Gregory to take. As for Amy, I don't think there is much about her in historical record so Gregory probably had much more freedom to create a personality for her and she does a decent job. Throughout the story there are times when I want to shake her and smack her across the face for her stubbornness and her blindness to things but at other times I feel so incredibly sorry for her (though I will admit those times are few). She really irritated me most of the time but there were those few moments where something else shone through and that is what made her probably the most well rounded character in the story; she had more than one side to her personality and it made her somewhat interesting. That is what was lacking in the two main characters - Elizabeth acted like an idiot the whole time and Dudley was sickening in his arrogance the whole time.
I really can find nothing in this book to recommend it to anyone. Perhaps someone who isn't interested in much history and is just reading for the sex could enjoy it. This story holds so much potential because Elizabeth is such a fascinating woman. Gregory completely missed with this one.
*NOTE: It seems like I set out to trash this book but that really wasn't the case. I just really did not like it and I don't think I should just review books I like. Just because I didn't like it doesn't mean someone else won't. I felt a bit bad when someone commented on the "trashing."