cover image The Queen's Handmaiden

The Queen's Handmaiden

Jennifer Ashley. Berkley Publishing Group, $22 (323pp) ISBN 978-0-425-21732-0

In this uneven first-person overview of Elizabeth Tudor's rise to power, Ashley (who also writes Regency mysteries as Ashley Gardner) chooses the unlikely perspective of Eloise Rousell, Elizabeth's faithful seamstress and confidante. Elizabeth and Eloise meet thanks to Elizabeth's governess, Eloise's ""Aunt Kat,"" and Eloise is soon a demure eyewitness to Elizabeth's early problems with Lord Thomas Seymour, whom Catherine Parr marries after King Henry's death. Seymour's later executed for treason. After Elizabeth's young brother King Edward dies, more conflicts arise, significantly so after Lady Jane Grey's execution and Queen Mary's coronation. It's moderately intense, though Queen Elizabeth's controversial affair with the scandalous Robert Dudley is quickly glossed over. Also, the sweet, sudden romance between Eloise and Elizabeth's spy, James Colby, feels contrived, as does the couple's role in persuading Elizabeth to forego marriage to Robert. Though Eloise is nice enough, her wide-eyed take makes for an underdeveloped portrait of the Virgin Queen and the treacherous Tudors.