Saturday, December 18, 2010

Book Review: Legacy by Susan Kay

Book Synopsis (from

Kay's prodigious research buttresses this robust historical romance, winner of Britain's Georgette Heyer Historical Novel Prize and the Betty Trask Prize for a first novel. England's greatest Queen is presented from an intriguing psychological viewpoint.  Elizabeth I's need for men and the bondage endured by those she chose. Freely mixing the verifiable with the imagined, Kay traces Elizabeth's rise from lonely childhood to lonely eminence. In the person of Robert Dudley, later Leicester, she creates a romantic fulcrum for Elizabeth's womanliness, delineating the childhood affection for Dudley that flowered in clandestine liaison and may be the closest Elizabeth came to a loving relationship. All of the Court's intriguing personnel from the ubiquitous, conniving Cecils to the presumptive upstart, Essex are drawn with care; the turbulence of the period, filled with violent deaths, challenges from abroad, pragmatic liaisons, is conveyed with verisimilitude; the rich tapestry of the Tudor ascendancy is woven with colorful threads. It is, however, the depiction of a woman of whom "half the wives of England were jealous" that lingers. 

Avid Reader's Review

3 Stars

Susan Kay's Legacy provides a fictional account of the life of England's Queen Elizabeth I, with a  focus primarily on her relationships with Robert Dudley (Earl of Leicester), William Cecil and the young Earl of Essex.    This novel started out strongly for me, and it was evident that Kay did her historical homework.   Ultimately, however, I felt this book didn't focus enough on events outside of Elizabeth's relationships with Dudley, Cecil and Essex to satisfy me.    I recognize that that the book is first and foremost about these relationships (this is evident in the novel's subtitle - The Acclaimed Novel of Elizabeth, England's Most Passionate Queen -- and the Three Men Who Loved Her) but Kay didn't delve deeply enough into the politics and political events of Elizabeth's remarkable reign for me to consider this novel a truly great work of historical fiction.   It is mentioned that Elizabeth's reign brought about a period of relative peace, stability and prosperity, but it is never really mentioned what contribution Elizabeth made to make this so.    Further, and what is perhaps my biggest critique of the novel, Elizabeth herself is characterized as manipulative, self-absorbed and cruel.   With the exception of her sharp intelligence Kay gave the monarch no other redeeming qualities.   At times I even felt Elizabeth came across as not being completely sane.  The charms attributed to her that caused men to fall under her spell were nowhere in evidence in this novel.  

Despite my criticisms, I did enjoy the novel overall and am glad I read it.   I appreciated the historical research that went into the book, and I liked Kay's writing style.   I do feel, by and large, that most fans of Tudor historical fiction would find this novel a worthwhile read.   I was just looking for a little more from the novel than I got.   It would be nice to read a work of historical fiction that focuses primarily on Elizabeth's reign rather than her love life.