Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Review: The Tudor Secret

Summary: The era of the Tudors was one of danger, intrigue, conspiracy, and, above all, spies.

Summer 1553: A time of danger and deceit. Brendan Prescott, an orphan, is reared in the household of the powerful Dudley family. Brought to court, Prescott finds himself sent on an illicit mission to the king’s brilliant but enigmatic sister, Princess Elizabeth. But Brendan is soon compelled to work as a double agent by Elizabeth’s protector, William Cecil, who promises in exchange to help him unravel the secret of his own mysterious past.

A dark plot swirls around Elizabeth’s quest to unravel the truth about the ominous disappearance of her seriously ill brother, King Edward VI. With only a bold stable boy and an audacious lady-in-waiting at his side, Brendan plunges into a ruthless gambit of half-truths, lies, and murder. Filled with the intrigue and pageantry of Tudor England, The Tudor Secret is the first book in The Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles. -- St. Martin's Griffin

I just love C.W. Gortner! He has established himself as one of my favorite historical fiction authors with such fantastic novels as THE CONFESSIONS OF CATHERINE DE MEDICI (my review) and THE LAST QUEEN (my review.) Needless to say, I have been anxiously awaiting another book, and I'm so happy to say that it's now available. It's called THE TUDOR SECRET: THE ELIZABETH 1 SPYMASTER CHRONICLES (VOLUME 1), and I just have to tell you --Mr. Gortner has done it again!

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I haven't been reading as much historical fiction lately because I kind of have the blahs on the king and queen sagas. I'm pretty sure that it won't be a permanent departure, but I think I just need a little break. (Of course, I will continue to read my favorites like Mr. Gortner.) Having said that, you might be surprised that I enjoyed THE TUDOR SECRET as much as I did. I think one of the things that made this book so good is that it wasn't a typical Tudor novel -- it was so original. In fact, I found this book to be more intriguing than most because it was filled with spies, romance and secrets!

Unlike most Tudor books, THE TUDOR SECRET's main character and narrator, Brendan Prescott, is a fictional one. (Of course, there are lots of "real" characters too like Elizabeth I and The Dudley family members.) I just adored Brendan and thought he truly was a likable and charismatic character. Much of that credit goes to Mr. Gortner because he did a wonderful job of creating and developing Brendan. He allowed the reader to learn about Brendan's troubled childhood as well as to see what an honorable man he became. I, for one, think Brendan was a great character and a great hero; and I couldn't help but fall for him just a wee bit!

Many of the secondary characters were terrific too. I loved really liked Elizabeth's lady-in-waiting, Kate as well as the stable boy, Peregrine. I appreciated how Brendan's interactions with them were portrayed, and I especially liked the humorous aspects of their relationships. However, I also really liked the interpretation of Elizabeth I in this novel. I have read quite a few books about the queen, and most show a not-so-positive side of her. I thought Mr. Gortner's rendering was original and I appreciated seeing another aspect of her character.

Brendan (and many of the other characters) were one of the main reasons that I enjoyed this novel so much, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how great the story was too. In fact, it was difficult to put this book down because the pace of this book was so fast and so much was going on. Because THE TUDOR SECRET was a spy novel, the story had a lot of twists and turns and even a few surprises. Like Brendan, I was often times confused about various characters' motivations and who should be trusted. I also thoroughly enjoyed the romance aspect of the story. It wasn't a huge part of the story, but it was sweet and just right!

If you haven't read any of Mr. Gortner's novels, then you are definitely missing out. He is a marvelous writer and just does so many things so well. In THE TUDOR SECRET, he did a great job of bringing Brendan and the other characters to life; and he also created a unique and exciting story that's guaranteed to keep readers' interest. However, I wasn't surprised to learn that this novel was written prior to his other ones. (Evidently, he reworked it prior to publication.) While I still thought the book was very well written, I didn't feel as if it quite the same feel as his other two novels. For example, some of the descriptions in the first half of the novel seemed to be too flowery for my taste. I have a feeling that I'm just being picky, though -- THE TUDOR SECRET was still a great novel.

I also want to mention how impressed I was with Mr. Gortner's ability to bring this time period to life. It's apparent that he conducted a tremendous amount of research and really knows his stuff about the Tudors. Mr. Gortner certainly has a gift when it comes to taking the "facts" and incorporating just enough "fiction" with them to create a wonderful story. He truly is a masterful storyteller!

THE TUDOR SECRET would make a great book club pick, especially if your group is looking for something a little different from the other historical fiction fare out there. There is a reading guide included in the back of the book along with an author interview, a timeline, recommended reading suggestions and an interesting essay about Elizabeth I. If you decided to read THE TUDOR SECRET, some of the topics you might want to discuss include the characters' motivations, religious conflicts, the political environment, love, secrets, trust, honor and loyalty.

I'm excited to say that this novel is the first in a series of Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles! So that means, more Brendan and more of Mr. Gortner's fantastic writing. If you are a fan of historical fiction, then you definitely need to check out THE TUDOR SECRET (along with all of Mr. Gortner's novels.)

Thanks to the author for sending me a copy of his terrific novel.


Kailana said...

Historical Fiction used to make up a large percentage of my overall reading, but I haven't really been reading it either. It is mainly the reason you mention, I am tired of the same thing over and over again. I think I just read too much of it for a while there and burned myself out. This does sound good, but I haven't gotten around to Gortner at all yet. One of these days I will!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I've always been amazed at all the books on the Tudor period. I have to say that I have yet to read any of them, but I love reading all the reviews!

bermudaonion said...

I haven't read any of the Tudor books yet, but I know I really should try one. Your enthusiasm for Gortner's work is contagious!

marthalama said...

I haven't heard of C.W.Gortner before but you make him sounds like a must read. I think I'll be adding him to my reading list.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Huh. A Tudor mystery/thriller! That is definitely something you don't see often. I haven't ever read anything Tudor (not sure if it is my thing or not) but I love a good mystery so this might be the perfect place to start.

Rebecca Rasmussen said...

This one sounds really good! I haven't read any books on this period, but I am definitely intrigued by your review :)

C.W. Gortner said...

Thank you, Julie, for this lovely and very sincere review. I really appreciate being featured on Booking Mama, one of my favorite blogs. I hope your readers will enjoy THE TUDOR SECRET.

Meghan said...

I can't wait to read this one! I too have a bit of the blahs on kings and queens in fiction (what a great way to say it, perfectly expresses how I feel) but I know I'll still love this book at least.

Meghan @ Medieval Bookworm

Gwendolyn B. said...

Nice review, Julie! Your enthusiasm for Gortner's work really comes through. I haven't read any of his books yet - I hope to remedy that this year.

Amused said...

I'm so glad you liked this one so much as it's sitting on my shelf and now I am really excited to read it! I love historical fiction and I had no idea it would be turned into a series!

SuziQoregon said...

The only C.W Gortner I've read so far is The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, but I adored it. I've got a copy of this one coming to me soon. I think what intrigues me about this one is the spy story element.

I've been so wrapped up in my various mystery series lately that I've been away from Historical Fiction for too long. Sounds like this will be a nice blend of both.