cover image Rival to the Queen

Rival to the Queen

Carolly Erickson, St. Martin’s, $25.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-312-37974-2

The Virgin Queen Elizabeth I and her heart’s consort, Lord Robert Dudley, the earl of Leicester, continue to exert a seductive hold on the imagination as fodder for fiction. Now Erickson examines a rival for Lord Dudley’s affections, Leticia “Lettie” Knollys, a Boleyn relative who, along with her sister, served in Elizabeth’s court and eventually became Lady Leicester. Erickson (The Memoirs of Mary Queen of Scots) paints Elizabeth as an enormously selfish, envious monster, and Dudley as a handsome rake who’s devoted to his own agenda and to his queen. But due at least in part to politics, his relationship with Elizabeth doesn’t end in the marriage he’s longed for, and the marriage he does have, to Lady Amy, ends with her untimely death, a possible suicide. Dudley’s marriage to Lettie produces a son who later dies, and a liaison with Lady Douglass Sheffield produces a bastard, or “base son.” Erickson writes gracefully, but his Elizabeth is too cartoonish, and Lettie, his narrator, reveals her history with a stereotypical dispassionate air that fails to engage the reader emotionally. (Oct.)