Review Take Two: Roses Have Thorns by Sandra Byrd

Wednesday, May 8, 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: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 3/5

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.

Reviewed by Danielle.

Roses Have Thorns spans about 25 years, starting when Elin von Snakenborg leaves Sweden in the company of Princess Cecelia, (about 5 years into Elizabeth’s reign) and ending around the time Mary, Queen of Scots, was finally executed. As is often the case with novels covering such a long time period, a lot of things are rushed or passed right over. In addition, Elin, or Helena as she adopts after choosing to stay in England, is a Maid of Honor in the queen’s privy chamber. She’s not on the battlefield at Cadiz or sailing with her friend, Sir Francis Drake. She’s not in meetings with Parliament or watching Mary in the Tower. She’s turning down linens. Because there’s not a lot of direct action, the story comes off a lot like Helena, sedate, consistent, and bland.

Unfortunately, Helena just isn’t a very realized character. She does get a few moments of interest, but they revolve solely around the people in her life. It’s scandalous that her fiance is banging her sister in a broom closet or that an actor threatens to turn her engagement upside-down, but she never reacts in a way that makes it more interesting or more sympathetic. Life happens to Helena. Likewise, Elizabeth is portrayed as an omniscient goddess with a heart made of cotton candy and rainbows and a temper like no other, but we rarely see her do anything. We hear a lot about her hopes and dreams undying love for Robert Dudley, but for a book that purports to be “vividly conjuring” the time period, it’s surprisingly light on political intrigue.

There are some tense scenes, dealing mostly with Helena's second husband and where his loyalties lie. I did also really enjoy the scene with Elizabeth and the pins. It was the only time I felt true emotion between the two of them. But, in the end, I just couldn't overcome the odd pacing, (Helena's pregnancies are frequently hand waved away as, "We made love." Serve the queen. Serve the queen. Serve the queen. "Oh yeah, I was by now 8 months pregnant,") and lack of action. 


  1. I had the same reaction as Danielle - so glad to know it wasn't just me :)

    1. This definitely wasn't my favorite of the series. Danielle raises so many good points, and is pretty persuasive too!


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