Saturday, March 23, 2013

Blood Between Queens, by Barbara Kyle

Back when I started this blog, I had no real clue what I was doing.  I would write entries, then just leave them sitting there in hopes that someone on the intermanet would stumble across them, read them, like them, and tell all their friends to start reading it; my approach was way worse than needle in a haystack – it was more like hoping someone would be able to (and would want to) pick a particular snowflake out of an avalanche.  It wasn’t a smart approach. 

Then it dawned on me – Twitter.  When I write a supportive post, I tell the author of the book about it.  I don’t hold back on books if I don’t like them, but I found that when I like a book, and I let the author know, they’ll often re-Tweet my post, bringing in new readers for my blog.  Sometimes, I’m lucky enough to get to develop cordial relationships with the author.  That was the case with Barbara Kyle and what led to my latest read; during some Twitter back-and-forth, I mentioned how much I was looking forward to her next book, and Kyle offered to let me have access to an Advanced Reader’s Copy.  I was thrilled!

I’m not going to lie – I sometimes worry that I was less than flattering in some of my past posts about Kyle’s Thornleigh series.  I’ve devotedly read her books since I discovered them, but I found a flaw or two with them and, true to my nature, wasn’t afraid to put my impressions out there.  When she offered me access to an ARC of the next one, I was worried that I would need to be flattering no matter what my impressions of the book were, but within 100 pages, all my worries were dispelled; Kyle’s newest book, Blood Between Queens is an amazing read and, by far, the best piece of writing in series.

The Thornleigh Series tells the story of the Thornleigh family (duh) over a course of several decades.  The first book (The Queen’s Lady) begins during the reign of Henry VIII, while Blood Between Queens is set during the beginning of Mary of Scot’s imprisonment by Elizabeth I.  In Blood Between Queens, we are introduced to Justine, a survivor of the Thornleigh/Grenville feud who wants nothing more than to fit in her with her adopted family, the Thornleighs.  However, playing on themes that run through all the books, Justine is forced to weigh her personal morals against her public and private loyalties, and come to many tough decisions.  

In her other books, Kyle displayed a wonderful sense of historical finesse, and she clearly researched all aspects of her books thoroughly (I think her work on Tudor prisons in The King’s Daughter has to be some of the finest historical fiction writing I’ve ever read).  In some cases though, I felt that the history overshadowed the Thornleigh plot.  (While the research was solid and interesting, I was more interested in the characters’ development that the politics of the time.)  Blood Between Queens seems to navigate both channels superbly, and doles out just enough historical fact to ground the plot without overwhelming the reader in it.  

Kyle’s characters in this book, like in the entire series, are relatable and engaging.  This is why I keep coming back to her as an author – if I’m going to spend five books worth of time with someone, they better be engaging.  Kyle is able to craft a cast of characters who, even with the villains, you want to read more about.  I’ve become invested in these characters, so it broke my heart to see some of the older ones declining, but it came to me that Kyle wasn’t shielding her readers from reality, making this a series that she can conceivably (and will hopefully!) continue through many generations of the family.

So, final verdict?  Read this book.  Read all of Kyle’s books.  As an author, Kyle is skilled at walking her readers through the quagmire of Tudor history with all its political intrigue and cross-cuts; she’s crafted plots that are fast-paced and constantly drawing the reader in; and she’s developed characters which will serve her will for years to come as they are robust and engaging.  I hope that Kyle doesn’t end her series, but rather continues to write about the Thornleighs.  In a literary market full of Tudor-inspired histories, Kyle’s works stand out as an example of how the miasma of the Tudor dynasty can be used as a backdrop to create a fulfilling experience for the reader.  

(**Note: Blood Between Queens has a slated release date for April 30, 2013.**)

(**Second Note: I have the author’s permission to clearly state, up front and without a Spoiler Alert, that Mary never becomes Queen of England.  If you didn’t know that, feel a smidgen of shame, and tune into any and all documentaries by David Starkey that you see are being broadcast on television and/or pick up a book or two by Alison Weir.**)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your kind words about my books, Elise. I'm delighted that you've enjoyed them. And you're right to recommend Alison Weir's fine work. Anyone interested in learning about the Elizabeth/Mary Queen of Scots story will find Weir's superb book "Mary Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley" invaluable.