Monday 28 February 2022

Lady, In Waiting by Karen Heenan

Reviewer's Choice

1500s / Tudor

"She serves the queen. Her husband serves the court. 
How can they be so far apart?
Margaery Preston is newly married to a man she barely knows. Proposing to Robin Lewis may have been impulsive, but she wants their marriage to work - she just doesn't know how to be married, and it seems her husband hasn't a clue, either.
Treated like a child by everyone from her husband to the queen, lost in the unfamiliar world of the Elizabethan court, Margaery will have to learn quickly or lose any chance at the life she wants.
Can a marriage for all the wrong reasons make it to happily ever after?"

We were introduced to Margaery at the end of Ms Heenan’s second novel, A Wider World, and it’s been a pleasure to read this new book, told from her point of view.

Margaery is young, lively, and hopeful. The comma in the title is telling though, for this is a story of waiting; not only for married life to begin, but her own life too. (The small but significant triumph when she meets Lord Cecil and arranges her own adventure was satisfying to read.)

Whenever I read a book from this author, I find myself marvelling at her effective economy of words when describing characters’ actions. In a huff, Margaery goes to the parlour to ‘ignore her embroidery’. Her husband, coming to bed late, keeps his breath deliberately shallow and haven't we all done that so as not to disturb someone we believe to be asleep? ‘Robin’s head emerged from the open neck of a fresh shirt’ and instantly we have an image of a man getting dressed. Margaery is intoxicated by the attentions of a man at court, but when he takes things too far and tries to seduce her, she notices the smell of the roses in the garden and knows that aroma will always trigger reminders of this man. 

Ms Heenan is also adept at getting her characters from one scene to another; her writing is tight and efficient without losing any imagery. When Margaery and Will travel through a vicious storm the writing remains tight but, crucially, the depiction of the weather and how it affects the pair of them is vivid. 

In another scene, Will ‘arrows’ through the room, and it tells us all we need to know about the urgency of the situation. Will, incidentally, is a skilfully drawn character who shows how people sometimes act badly for the best intentions and how love inspires devotion and jealousy in equal measure.

Once again, much of the story takes place in the Tudor court but the focus is not on the usual people. This is very much the story of Margaery, Robin, and their friends and how the machinations of court life affects them. We hear a little of what the royals are doing, but only when it’s necessary for the story. What comes across, in the portrayal of Robin’s long absences, his exhaustion and his dedication to his job, is the nature of Lord Cecil’s work: the long hours, the ‘busyness’, and the intrigue.

Those who’ve read the other two books in the series will be delighted to know that some old friends appear, and that Ned Pickering is still in Robin’s life and is as much of an overwhelming presence as ever. The beauty of Ms Heenan’s books is that every character is three-dimensional and wonderfully realised. Each character has their own speech patterns, their own way of moving, and to read this book is like watching it all being acted out in front of you.

You can read this book as a standalone, but I urge you to read the other two, and indulge in a rich and involving sojourn in Tudor England. 

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Annie Whitehead
 e-version reviewed

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