Monday 28 January 2019

The Queen’s Letters by Jen Black

A Discovered Diamond

"I couldn’t put this book down. Using complex, well-developed main characters from different social strata this novel offers a glimpse of what life must have been like during this period at diverse levels of society."

The Scottish Queen Trilogy #3

Romance / Fictional Saga
Scotland/ France

The third story in Jen Black’s The Scottish Queen Trilogy sees reluctant hero Matho Spirston putting his life in danger once more as he tries to deliver the Dowager Queen of Scotland’s personal letters to her family in France. It is Matho’s first trip across the Channel and he finds both the language and cultural differences a challenge, a situation worsened by the fact that his mission is threatened by an unknown opponent. Help is on hand, however, in the shape of a lanky young stable-hand called Jehan, who comes to the rescue when the inn in which Matho is lodging is burnt to the ground. Homeless and jobless, Jehan joins up with Matho, helping him with his French in return for lessons in self-defence. Lessons that become increasingly necessary because whoever it is that wants the satchel of letters Matho is carrying is willing to go to extreme lengths to get it.

Eventually, Matho succeeds in fulfilling his task and receives replies to the Queen’s letters to take back to Scotland. The journey home, though, is equally full of dangers. Matho and Jehan become caught up between opposing armies as Habsburg troops cross the French border, and to complicate matters Matho also has to look out for a young French noblewoman named Agnes, who insists he take her to Paris. Matho advises against it, but the strong-willed young lady (illegitimate daughter of a de Guise cleric) is not disposed to accept advice – not until she sees they really could be trapped in the front line. Matho decides the only safe option is for Agnes is to return with him to St Andrews, from where, hopefully, she can join the Dowager Queen’s household at Stirling as a distant relative.

Meanwhile, in England, Meg (otherwise known as Margaret Douglas, niece of King Henry VIII) is preparing for marriage to the Scottish traitor Matthew, Earl of Lennox, whose own royal task will bring him face to face with Matho at Dumbarton. I would have liked more on vivacious Meg, her appearance in this story is too short, but what happens with Lennox at Dumbarton perhaps makes up for it. To say more on this would be a spoiler. From here on, the intrigue behind King Henry’s territorial ambitions and the struggle for power over the infant Mary Stewart is action-packed. The various means by which Matho Thirston evades capture and hanging make him a veritable sixteenth century James Bond.

I haven’t read the previous two stories in the Trilogy, but I couldn’t put this book down. Using complex, well-developed main characters from different social strata this novel offers a glimpse of what life must have been like during this period at diverse levels of society. Jen Black weaves familiar personality traits and recognisable emotions of ambition and jealousy, love and regret into distant political intrigues, making this a very enjoyable book. Her description of Scottish castles and surrounding countryside is informative but not intrusive. These tidbits of history, combined with a rapidly moving plot that finally arrives at a never-quite-certain satisfactory ending, make this very worthwhile historical fiction. I particularly liked Ms Black’s style: she has a light touch and knows how less can be more.

The Queen’s Letters works well as a stand-alone novel, but it is bringing a complex story to a close so it would be advisable to read the Trilogy in order. This way one knows more about the key players of the time, why Matho Spirston carries such a burden of guilt, and why he should or should not accept Agnes as his wife.

 © J.G. Harlond 

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for such a thoughtful review, J.G. Absolutely delighted with it.Jen


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