This novel, the 5th in Philippa Gregory’s "Tudor" series, is a fictional accounting of the early years of the spectacular reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Thanks to her step sister, Queen Mary (otherwise known as “Bloody Mary”) she has inherited a bankrupt country, plagued by enmity and fear, threatened by war with France and/or Spain, where treason is the norm. As queen of England in the mid-16th century, where no woman has reigned as the sovereign ruler, Elizabeth is expected to marry a strong prince who will govern the troubled country. The young queen refuses to relinquish her power to a foreign prince, however. She is madly in love with Sir Robert Dudley, who is very inconveniently married, but who has dangerous ambitions of not only becoming the queen’s husband, but the sole ruler of England.
The story is actually told through the eyes of Dudley’s wife, Amy, who knows that Elizabeth's ambitious leap to the throne will lure her husband back to the power and intrigue of the glamorous Tudor court, and a passionate love affair with the young queen. Gregory puts a little bit different spin on the character of Queen Elizabeth, portraying her as somewhat insecure and unsure of herself, who is easily influenced by the cunningly charming Sir Robert. Things get pretty dicey as war with France and Spain is imminent. Elizabeth is torn between the advice of her faithful adviser, William Cecil, and the manipulative, seductive Robert Dudley, and comes dangerously close to marrying Dudley when his wife mysteriously dies.
Philippa Gregory once again gives the reader an intimate look at a country on the brink of greatness or disaster. One brilliant ruler, who happened to be a woman, stood steadfast in her love of her country and determination to return to greatness, but would not sell out to any man in order to achieve this.