Unicorn's Blood

Patricia Finney, Author Picador USA $25 (384p) ISBN 978-0-312-18201-4
The court of Elizabeth I provides a rich background for this accomplished historical thriller, starring the queen herself. After painstaking research, Finney (Firedrake's Eye) has concocted a very clever scenario to explain how Elizabeth's hand was forced to sign the death warrant for her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots. With a rare eye for period detail and sensibility, Higham Award winner Finney explores not only the internecine court politics of the time but also the inner workings of Queen Elizabeth's daily life--the varied responsibilities of her handpicked staff, her elaborate wardrobe requirements, her intricate make-up applications and even the character of her bowel movements. (Indeed, Elizabethan ways of dealing with human waste are one of the novel's important motifs.) Early efforts to link three different characters named Mary (the queen, the Virgin and a defrocked nun) take a little getting used to, but all confusions are resolved in time, while Finney's fictional meditations on Elizabeth's iconic womanhood (and virginity), her overmastering will and her life-preserving, lonely suspiciousness not only bring Elizabeth alive--they make England's greatest queen an object of sympathy and even identification. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 02/02/1998
Release date: 02/01/1998
Paperback - 978-0-312-20243-9
Paperback - 384 pages - 978-0-312-20039-8
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