The Tudor Secret
The Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles by C. W. Gortner
Review: Brendan Prescott, an orphaned stableboy in the service of the politically connected Dudley family, is sent from the family estate to London to be the squire to Lord Robert Dudley, one of the five sons of the powerful Duke of Northumberland, but who gets caught up in a web of royal intrigue, in The Tudor Secret, the first book in the Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles by C. W. Gortner. This book is set in the summer of 1553.
Another of the Dudley boys, Guilford, is engaged to Lady Jane Grey, a blood relative of the royal family (though not in a direct line for the throne), their wedding to take place within days of Brendan's arrival in London. Their marriage, arranged by their respective mothers, is seen to be politically motivated — but to what end is not clear. Robert, though already wed — another arranged marriage — has set his eyes on romancing Princess Elizabeth, who by chance Brendan meets while entering the city. These events are set against the backdrop of the mysterious circumstances surrounding the health of the current King Edward VI, a teenager but also the first Protestant monarch. Should he die, the next in line to succeed him would be his half-sister Mary I, a devout Catholic. With unseen forces determined to alter the course of succession, Brendan is pressed into reporting on the behind-the-scenes activity of the Dudleys … though for whom he is spying — and for what purpose — is unknown to him.
The Tudor Secret is a creative — and well crafted — blend of factual history and fictional mystery. Written from the perspective of Brendan Prescott (one of the few fictional characters in the book), who describes himself as having "an unremarkable face, so commonplace it was as easily forgotten as rain," the reader is immediately immersed into the story as much as Brendan is in his assignment. "I'd been plunged into a nest of serpents, where one false step could spell my ruin. The more I considered it, the more I began to question the true reason for my summons."
There's a sort of contemporary style to the writing here that will appeal to readers who may be put off by the often stilted prose of many historical mysteries. The narrative proceeds along at a brisk pace with the historical figures and facts, of which there are many, seamlessly introduced and incorporated into the story.
Much is made early in the book of Brendan Prescott being an orphan, a foundling, so it is no surprise when this becomes a major subplot late in the book, his need to understand his family origins. It goes on a little too long and detracts slightly from intrigue, as do the various (somewhat intrusive) romantic elements. Still, these are minor quibbles for what is otherwise a very enjoyable novel.
(An interview with the author, together with a brief historical timeline covering the events mentioned in The Tudor Secret, appear as appendices.)
Acknowledgment: St. Martin's Press provided a trade paperback edition of The Tudor Secret for this review.
Review Copyright © 2011 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in The Tudor Secret: London, England
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The Tudor Secret by C. W. Gortner — The Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publication Date: February 2011
List Price: $26.99