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Having read many historical novels, and quite a few of them about Mary Queen of Scots, I was looking forward to the promise of this book – i.e. exploring Scotland’s Queen Mary through the eyes of her four ladies, all also named Mary. But this book was a disappointment. I should have paid closer attention to the singular form of “Mary” in the title.
Because, it’s really not about all four Marys. It’s really about one of them, Mary Seton and THAT Mary’s perspective on the other Marys. But not one of the Marys, including the Queen, is fully fleshed out. And as a result, I never could bring myself to care about any of them. Including the Queen.
Instead, the book felt less like a coherent story and more like an almost random series of chronological snapshots — bits and pieces of conversations and a whole lot of silent imagining and processing that take place only in Mary Seton’s brain. So the whole book becomes really a second hand story.
Even the drama surrounding Mary Queen of Scots herself winds up feeling remote. Was the Queen aware of plans to kill her second husband, Lord Darnley? Was she Lord Bothwell’s lover before Darnley was murdered? Were her letters to Bothwell real or forged? There are lots of questions raised but no certain answers. Just endless speculation.
I was determined to finish but it became a bit of a chore to stay with this narrative. For me, there are many more enjoyable historical novels that tackle Mary Queen of Scots more successfully.
More about Sarah Gristwood.