Book Tour Review and Giveaway: Roses Have Thorns by Sandra Byrd

Monday, May 6, 2013
Title: Roses Have Thorns
Author: Sandra Byrd
Genre: historical fiction
Series: Ladies in Waiting #3
Pages: 336 (paperback edition)
Published: April 9 2013
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 4/5

From the acclaimed author of To Die For comes a stirring novel told that sheds new light on Elizabeth I and her court. Sandra Byrd has attracted countless fans for evoking the complexity, grandeur, and brutality of the Tudor period. In her latest tour de force, she poses the question: What happens when serving a queen may cost you your marriage—or your life?

In 1565, seventeen-year-old Elin von Snakenborg leaves Sweden on a treacherous journey to England. Her fiance has fallen in love with her sister and her dowry money has been gambled away, but ahead of her lies an adventure that will take her to the dizzying heights of Tudor power. Transformed through marriage into Helena, the Marchioness of Northampton, she becomes the highest-ranking woman in Elizabeth’s circle. But in a court that is surrounded by Catholic enemies who plot the queen’s downfall, Helena is forced to choose between an unyielding monarch and the husband she’s not sure she can trust—a choice that will provoke catastrophic consequences.

Vividly conjuring the years leading up to the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots, Roses Have Thorns is a brilliant exploration of treason, both to the realm and to the heart.

Sandra Byrd completes her historical fiction series set during different periods of the Tudor dynasty with this look into the life of Elin/Helena von Snakenborg, a confidant, friend and noble lady of Queen Elizabeth I. Each novel has showcased a different time and different women, but each set (Meg Wyatt and Anne Boleyn in To Die For, Kateryn Parr and Juiliana St. John from The Secret Keeper) have been distinct and compelling as presented by this capable author. Byrd excels at capturing the voices of the less known players in important times, tangentially connecting them with the movers and shakers of the 16th century. With this series, Byrd has shown again and again what a strong grip she has on portraying the lives of both royals, nobility and commoners and her grasp is no less tight when it comes to the illustrious figure of Queen regnant Elizabeth and her highest lady, the oft-overlooked Helena von Snakenborg.

I've read more than my fair share of Tudor historical fiction (more than 30 books at last count), and in all those novels, from Philippa Gregory to Jean Plaidy, I'd never before stumbled upon the real-life Swedish Marchioness of Northampton. While this lead character may not have been the most dynamic and proactive of Byrd's characters, she is interesting and new. The circumstances of Lady von Snakenborg's arrival, and stay in England are unusual and Byrd carefully highlights her differences while still skillfully enmeshing her with the life of the Queen of England. Elin, or as she remains herself after an English marriage, Helena, is the least developed character in the novel, and in Byrd's series. I enjoyed her story, but Helena's personality is not that of the devious Queen Elizabeth, or cunning like Anne Boleyn, or honorable but troubled Juliana. No, Helena is steady, loyal, and unchanging. That makes for a respectable and honorable lady of the court, but not the most dynamic character or narrator.

The truest complaint that can be leveled at Helena, is that "life happens to her", as my trustworthy and observant co-blogger so aptly put it in her review. Rather than go and change things on her own, Helena is content to let events play out as they will, with no direct action, even when it concerns her closely. It may be anaxhronistic for that time and place, but with Elizabeth as a friend and ally, Helena could definitely have been more active in her own life, and the Court. For all my minor issues with her portrayal, I think Helena was a decent protagonist for the novel. Her first person narration allows for a close look into all aspects of her own life, as well as more insight into the Queen's inner chambers. Her Swedish background, the unique story of her rise at Court  makes for some new territory in a well-examined time of history, but fall short of truly excelling due to her lack of initiative and ambition.

Roses Have Thorns focuses more on the private, non-public life of Elizabeth, and how that and the Queen herself impact those around her. There's less Court intrigue and politicking, and more personal interaction with a Queen regnant. There's a constant theme of duty over desire in the lives of the characters, most notably for Queen Elizabeth herself and for Helena. Each woman is constantly torn between her personal desires in life - for love, for family, a child, or to spend time with those children and husband she has - and the duty required to ensure the safety and sovereignty of the realm (for Elizabeth) or to serving her Queen as someone implicitly trusted and loved. Elizabeth is married to her country, and Helena is married to her position as one the chosen ladies who make up Elizabeth's "family". 

The novel concludes with the death and funeral of Elizabeth in 1603, though Helena herself would live until 1635. Through Helena's more than 20 years of service, through marriages of affection and convenience, to a tumultuous one made in love, through court favor and exile, Helena's life was shaped by this crafty, smart, dedicated and unpredictable woman. I wished the novel had continued a bit longer, as Helena's legacy is sprawling and impressive. Her longevity is as noteworthy as her consistent life as a woman in dangerous times.  I always say the best historical fiction makes you curious about the people depicted, and Sandra Byrd more than piqued my interest in this Swedish Marchioness.

I've been anticipating this novel for close to a year, since inhaling and loving The Secret Keeper last June. Sandra Byrd did not disappoint me with Roses Have Thorns. There are many novels about Queen Elizabeth, but few that have chosen to portray her as Byrd did here - as equally a woman and a Queen. This is a strong book, and I had fun while reading it over the last few days. Helena von Snakenborg is a fresh voice in a very popular time and the research the went into crafting this version of her life is readily apparent. For fans that enjoy Tudor fiction, or those looking to get into it, Sandra Byrd's Ladies in Waiting series is a perfect fit.

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Virtual Book Tour Schedule

Tuesday, April 9
Review & Giveaway at Bippity Boppity Book

Wednesday, April 10
Review at Layered Pages
Review & Giveaway at My Reading Room

Thursday, April 11
Review & Giveaway at CelticLady’s Reviews
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages

Friday, April 12
Feature & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Monday, April 15
Review at Unabridged Chick

Tuesday, April 16
Interview & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick

Wednesday, April 17
Review & Giveaway at One Book at a Time

Thursday, April 18
Review & Guest Post at A Bookish Librarian

Friday, April 19
Review & Giveaway at Bloggin’ ’bout Books

Monday, April 22

Tuesday, April 23
Review & Giveaway at Julz Reads

Thursday, April 25
Review at Book Drunkard
Guest Post & Giveaway at Tanzanite’s Castle Full of Books

Friday, April 26
Review & Giveaway at The Musings of a Book Junkie

Monday, April 29

Tuesday, April 30
Review & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair

Wednesday, May 1

Thursday, May 2
Review & Giveaway at Luxury Reading
Interview at A Chick Who Reads

Friday, May 3
Review at Drey’s Library
Review at Book Dilettante

Monday, May 6
Review & Giveaway at Ageless Pages Reviews
Interview at Reading the Past

Tuesday, May 7
Review & Giveaway at The Eclectic Reader

Wednesday, May 8
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee

Thursday, May 9
Guest Post & Giveaway at Tina’s Book Reviews

Friday, May 10
Review at The Bookworm

Monday, May 13
Interview & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books

Tuesday, May 14
Review & Giveaway at Always with a Book

Wednesday, May 15
Review & Giveaway at Legacy of a Writer

Thursday, May 16

Friday, May 17
Review & Giveaway at The True Book Addict


  1. Thanks so much for reading, reviewing, and hosting, Jessie. As always I appreciate your time and careful attention to the book!

  2. Great review, Jessie! I don't usually read historical fiction, but I do find the Tudors so intriguing. I might have to pick up this series.
    -Natalie @ Natflix&Books

  3. I always hated history in school, but I love historical fiction because it helps me step into a time or place that a boring history book just never captures because I was too busy memorizing the 'facts' for a test. I can't imagine what it would be like to live in this era, but it sounds like Sandra does a great job of representing the Tudors. I'll definitely add her to my list of authors to check out.


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