Wednesday, February 23, 2011
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.