All the Queen's Players
There was once a time when I could point to Jane Feather as an author who successfully and consistently married descriptive settings with intriguing characters. This is no longer true and oh how sad that makes me.
Rosamund Walsingham lives a quiet country life with her brother Thomas. She accepts her likely fate involving marriage and lots of babies, and her only wish is that her brother will manage to pick someone moderately kind who will allow her to continue drawing. But all of this changes when she meets their cousin, Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth’s chief spymaster. He sees her scribbles as a potential tool to bring down Mary Stuart, and whisks her away to court where she becomes a spy amongst Queen Elizabeth’s ladies.
Rosamund enjoys the courtly intrigues and learns how handle a kiss or two, particularly from the very interesting Chevalier de Vaugiras, but she revels even more in the theatre. Her brother’s lover is none other than the young Christopher Marlowe and through him she ventures into the world of theatre. There she meets Will Creighton, a very minor courtier and budding playwright with whom she becomes friends. But no matter what she thinks, the country mouse still has much to learn of the court’s pitfalls and traps.
The book marks a very different effort from Ms. Feather – she has illuminated the historical and pushed romance into the shadow; as a result the book is beautifully researched and seamlessly integrates fact with fiction. But fact can only go so far and I was bored senseless. Ms. Feather has written a lifeless tale that flits between characters like a bee in a garden. The multitude of historical figures receive unoriginal, perfunctory treatment that is unrelieved by any spark of life. The exceptions are Marlowe and Thomas Walsingham, who are complex, interesting characters and woefully underwritten.
When the narrative remembers its nominal protagonist, the reader is treated to perspectives of the fictional Rosamund, a singularly lacklustre seventeen-year-old who elicits very little sympathy, empathy, or even interest on the reader’s part. Interestingly enough, she is not passive so it confounds me that Rosamund can be so actively dull. Her romantic troubles are tedious and often spring out of nowhere, and I warn you that this book is categorized as historical fiction for good reason.
The Tudor court setting is now almost as ubiquitous as the over-bloated Regency subgenre, and Ms. Feather’s best scenes avoid court and venture into the theatre. Unfortunately these are few and far between, scattered amongst the perfunctory outlooks on courtly Elizabethan intrigues. The result is a listless effort that just about breaks my heart, for a history lesson is meaningless if it remains dead.