The Queen's Christmas Summons
Some of my favorite Christmas romances have a blend of darkness and light running through them. In The Queen’s Christmas Summons, Amanda McCabe does this very well. This book is filled with adventure and intrigue and yet, among all the plot action, we can still see her characters’ emotions shining through.
The destruction of the Spanish Armada is not the most common setting for a holiday romance, but the author uses it to great effect here. Alys Drury is the daughter of a English nobleman and a Spanish aristocrat. For his marriage to a Spanish Catholic, Alys’ father found himself exiled to a remote Irish keep where he serves the queen in isolation.
Alys herself is fairly content in Ireland, though she lacks for company beyond the household staff. The main dark clouds on her existence come from missing her beloved mother, who died when Alys was eleven, and her growing awareness of her father’s advancing age and isolation. Alys’ world changes in 1588 with the arrival of the Spanish Armada. Following their defeat at the hands of the English, Alys sees some of the ruined ships that wash up on the nearby beach, and she is horrified by the brutality with which the survivors are received.
It is against this background that Alys meets the mysterious captain Juan. Like Alys, he is (or at least claims to be) both Spanish and English by background. While Alys is undoubtedly loyal to Queen and country, the author does a great job of laying the groundwork to show why she might be sympathetic to a wounded Spanish sailor. The rapport between Alys and Juan is not instalove, but instead grows a bit more gradually. From the very beginning, their time together is fraught both with tension from knowing their different positions in life as well as a growing romantic tension.
When Juan and Alys find themselves suddenly separated and then unexpectedly thrown together for a royal Christmas, the story takes quite a turn as they realize that they have quite a lot to figure out about one another. The mood in Ireland had been quiet, pensive and sometimes somber. Once in England, the festivities of the Christmas season play a prominent role in the book. Yet, while this story is clearly taking a happy turn, there are still threads of intrigue running through it. The characters’ emotions are all over the place for quite obvious reasons, and I have to admit that I was very much here for all that messiness.
The Queen’s Christmas Summons is not one of those stories where the leads have a petty misunderstanding that could have been solved with one conversation as opposed to chapters of curl tossing, flouncing, and despondent drinking/gambling/faux debauchery. Political circumstances, family history, and all manner of larger issues must be dealt with, and Alys and Juan must often calculate whether it would be better for them to face their various challenges together or separately.
While not overtly religious and definitely not evangelical, Christmas traditions do lend this book a festive air and a distinctly seasonal tone. While I did have occasional quibbles such as, ‘What’s with everyone being part-Spanish in this book?’, I enjoyed this read very much overall. If you’re looking for a Christmas historical set somewhere outside nineteenth century England, definitely track this 2016 release down.