Review: The Queen's Secret by Victoria Lamb

Monday, April 13, 2015
Author: Victoria Lamb
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 368 (paperback ARC edition)
Published: February 2012 in the UK; March 3 2013 in the US
Source: author for a fair and honest review
Rating: 4.5/5

Elizabeth I, Queen of England, arrives at Kenilworth Castle amid pomp, fanfare and a wealth of lavish festivities laid on by the Earl of Leicester. The hopeful Earl knows this is his very last chance to persuade the Queen to marry him.

Yet despite his attachment to the Queen and his driving ambition to be her King, Leicester is unable to resist the seductive wiles of Lettice, wife of the Earl of Essex. And soon whispers of their relationship start spreading through the court.

Enraged by the adulterous lovers' growing intimacy, Elizabeth employs Lucy Morgan, a young black singer and court entertainer, to spy on the couple. But Lucy, who was raised by a spy in London, uncovers far more than she bargains for.

For someone at Kenilworth that summer is plotting to kill the queen. No longer able to tell friend from foe, it is soon not only the queen who is in mortal danger - but Lucy herself.

Full disclosure: I am GoodReads/Twitter friends with Victoria and she sent me this novel in exchange for a review. However much I like her (and that is very much!), this did not affect my impression of the novel nor my review for it. 

Consider me an official fan! I'm always on the lookout for new talent in the Tudor historical fiction genre, and Victoria Lamb is an author that continues to grow, and impress me more and more with each successive novel of hers that I've read. While I loved the first of her YA supernatural historical fiction novels (Witchstruck), The Queen's Secret has easily superseded it in my list of Tudor-era favorites. With just two novels, Lamb has easily proved herself to be a more than able storyteller, with a keen eye for detail, as well as for establishing an easily-believed, original scenario for the main plot of The Queen's Secret. Incorporating real historical figures -- and even a cameo from the Bard himself! -- as well as partly-imagined ones, this was a book I could not put down once I had started early yesterday morning.

The Queen's Secret has a couple simple but thoroughly engaging plots that keep the momentum moving along nicely at a decent clip: a conspiracy of assassination against the Queen, a young Moorish girl making her way in a unknown Court, the growing personal conflicts between Queen Elizabeth, her favorite Robert, Earl of Leicester, and his ongoing affair with the Queen's cousin, Lettice Knollys, the Countess of Essex. The multiple plots and characters are uniformly well-handled, even despite a love triangle. I usually hate the plot device, but the one here has the advantage of giving the characters involved (QE1, Leicester, Lettice) added depth and motivation, all without choking up the narrative or derailing the main plot. This is how love triangles should be written - there is drama and lies and secrets, but they are true to the characters personal lives, and serve to create tension, atmosphere, and occasionally, empathy for all three people caught in the web of personal desire versus public duties.

The varied cast of characters shown here, from young Lucy Morgan to Robert and the 'Virgin' Queen herself, are almost all fully dimensional and well-rendered. Lucy, based on a mysterious though factual lady of the Court, commands attention, especially as she is the first non-white main character I've come across in Tudor fiction.. Like I said with my review for Witchstruck, I love when authors aren't afraid to try something new, and Ms. Lamb once again illustrates her willingness to stand out. The only characters that I felt were one-sided and unexplored were the overall antagonists of the novel. Lettice could also be seen as an anatagonist, but her characterization and inner monologue help to present her as well-rounded person, with hopes, dreams, hates all her own. She creates a Courtly conflict easily and often for both her cousin and her lover, and the effect of her romantic pull on Robert constitutes a lot of the tension in the novel not otherwise supplied by the conspiracy angle. As the plot thickens and secrets and assassinations are uncovered, it's hard to guess whose side the Countess is really on. The ambiguity adds another layer to an already convoluted plot of lies and deception and I loved every single page of it.

For me, as an avid Tudorphile, The Queen's Secret was a nearly perfect read; very detailed, and full of lies, suspicion, secrets, conspiracies, and intrigue... all of which add up to create my favorite elements of Tudor historical fiction. The Queen Elizabeth of this novel, much like how she was shown in Witchstruck, really stands out from the other characters. Dynamic characters are obviously a talent of this author's and this book is no exception. Her version of Elizabeth is well-handled. She's full of depth, conflicting wants and needs, and is presented as a woman, as an able Queen with a quick mind, and an even quicker temper. Her attempts to balance desire versus power, personal wants against her public duty make for a compelling character in the various situations she is shown in here. As the plots thicken and twist around her, it was nice to see a new version of this oft-written about historical figure. QE1 is and probably always will be one of my favorite people to read about -- fictionalized or fact -- and Victoria Lamb has ample talent and skill to write her sympathetically or otherwise.

I only have a few things that kept this from being a 5-star read, which I am still considering bumping up because I just had so much fun reading it. The ending felt slightly bit anticlimactic after all the buildup and action, and also failed to answer a main question -- <SPOILER>who is the English traitor that is behind the attempt on the Queen?</SPOILER> The slight denouement and the open-ended nature of the final pages and epilogue leave a lot of room for the author to maneuver a sequel with that answer, and I can only hope one is forthcoming. The author's note following the conclusion of the main plot is just as fascinating as the preceding fictionalized tale, and I would encourage readers not to skip it.

Victoria Lamb is on my "to-watch" list. I will be eagerly awaiting her Witchstruck sequels, as well as hoping for more of her adult historical fiction novels. This is an author with a dab hand for characters, atmosphere, detail-filled novels with even pacing. I continue to be impressed with what this author has shown in the two novels I have read, and I highly recommend any Tudorphiles to seek her novels out and enjoy them as I have.


  1. Great review, Jessie! I won a copy of this book from the author and I just moved it up in the TBR pile based on your comments. Thanks!

    1. Thank you so much, Amy! I hope you like it when you get to it!

  2. Thanks Jessie, what an absolutely stunning review of TQS. I'm just here to say, YES, there is a sequel, which will be out in the UK in Spring 2013, entitled His Dark Lady.

    TQS is the first in a trilogy of books about Shakespeare's "Dark Lady", hence his cameo appearance here as an eleven year old boy which is, of course, not random but integral to the long-term plot of the trilogy. :)

    So thrilled you enjoyed this! It'll be out in the States early next year from Berkeley, for anyone wondering how to get hold of it there. Vx

    1. YES! I am so excited! And I love how Lucy and Will will obviously play into the next novels. What a great idea.

      I love your book, once again. This is my favorite, just sliiiightly, over Witchstruck, and I can't wait to see where it goes in the sequel!

  3. loved this review and your enthusiasm for it (how did I miss this originally?!) -- also, I was practically cheering at:

    "This is how love triangles should be written - there is drama and lies and secrets, but they are true to the characters personal lives, and serve to create tension, atmosphere, and occasionally, empathy for all three people caught in the web of personal desire versus public duties."

    YES! Exactly! THAT!

    1. I think you were on your staycation or sick! Who knows? :D But I am glad that you liked it! I had a great time with this book and I am glad it shows.

      And YES! on the love triangle. Finally, one that makes sense. It's one of the few that have ever been worked well into the story, and doesn't detract from the overall plot. I was very very impressed.


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