First of all, there is a sophistication to Anthony’s writing that few historical novelists match. Reading her narrative feels like you’ve traveled back in time. Her characters speak to each other differently than we do. More formally, but without being obscure or difficult to understand. And the consistency of this style helps keep the reader firmly placed in Tudor England.
Then, there is the exceptional way Anthony digs into the psychology of historic personalities. Figures like Queen Elizabeth I, her favorite Robert Dudley, Mary Queen of Scots, Mary’s second husband Henry Stuart, Mary’s third husband James Hepburn, Elizabeth’s chief advisor William Cecil, Spain’s King Phillip II, even Elizabeth’s look-alike cousin Lettice Knollys (and Dudley’s second wife) are thoughtful, subtle and fully three-dimensional human beings.
Each character’s actions feel fully believable and natural — because they are backed up by such rich detail and explanation on how each person interprets information and transforms it into distinctive motivations. (Anthony has a particularly fresh and intriguing explanation of the infamous abduction and rape of Mary Queen of Scots by James Hepburn, Lord Bothwell.) I can’t think of another historical novelist who matches Anthony for level of insight or provides her characters with more depth or more understandable flaws.
Though I already knew the facts and stories of this time period (from Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne through the death of Robert Dudley), I came away feeling I truly understood why historical events unfolded as they did — perhaps for the first time. Because they were simply reflections of the human beings involved in the events.
Like, for example:
• How supremely intelligent Elizabeth I was, when compared with most of her contemporaries, and what an advantage she made that.
• What it was about Lord Burghley that made him Elizabeth’s most trusted advisor, and what his shortcomings were.
• Why Robert Dudley’s romance with Elizabeth I was bound to be doomed, by his own foibles.
• And how Mary’s (Queen of Scots) pampered upbringing in France made her unprepared to go up against Elizabeth and win.
If you love historical fiction as much as I do, or have a passion for Tudor England, don’t miss this one.
More about this wildly successful British novelist, Evelyn Anthony, who died in September 2018.