Friday, November 28, 2014

The Tudor Vendetta: A Novel (The Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles) by C. W. Gortner.

The Tudor Vendetta: A Novel (The Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles).  C. W. Gortner. St. Martin’s Griffin. October 2014. 304 pp.  ISBN#: 9780312658588.

Elizabeth I is now Queen of England and requests the presence of Brendan Prescott.  Brendan is reluctant to return to London because he lied to the woman he loves, Kate, in order to save the life of Elizabeth.  He also knows he will again be facing the extreme animosity of his old nemesis, Lord Robert Dudley, now serving the Queen and perhaps her lover as well.  With the usual barbs and violent encounters, Brendan and Dudley rise to the bait but are quickly silenced by the will of the Queen.  Elizabeth has a job for Brendan, to investigate the disappearance of her lady’s maid, Lady Parry, after she left for her family home in Yorkshire.  One is left wondering why Lord Cecil and Dudley are against Brendan pursuing this quest, but Brendan serves the Queen not only out of loyal service but also as a secret relative of the royal family.  Something is definitely being left unsaid.

From the very first day of his arrival at Yorkshire, Brendan, with Shelton, the man who raised him, meet only secrecy and coldness to the point of rudeness.  To say more would be a spoiler that would ruin a tense, vibrant adventure and mystery. For some very old enemies of Brendan are involved in the disappearance of Lady Parry and the presence of a very young boy Raff  is the central key to a series of lies, attempted murders and actual murders.  Behind it all lies the hate behind the Papists who were so severely persecuted and killed at one time under the rule of Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII.  Elizabeth herself may be Queen but understands that her security is far from guaranteed as she has as many enemies as she has friends.

Having read the previous Spymaster Chronicles novels, this reviewer states that The Tudor Vendetta  is definitely the best novel in the series.  The author’s  crafting of a complex plot/conflict flows more easily herein and the reader will absolutely be unable to predict how this search for Lady Parry will end and who is behind her disappearance.  Brendan is not only courageous but also displays sensitivities toward those he has hurt.  He learns quickly not to trust even those who claim to be his friends.  For that is the nature of Elizabeth’s court; mistrust rules and one is loyal to royalty as long and only as long as that ruler remains head of State.

The Tudor Vendetta is credible, exciting historical fiction that this reviewer highly recommends!

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Tiger Queens: The Women of Genghis Khan by Stephanie Thornton

The Tiger Queens: The Women of Genghis Khan.  Stephanie Thornton. Penguin Group (USA). November 2014. 496 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451417800.

This is the story of four phenomenal women who bore the title “Khatun” for many days filled with unimaginable difficulties and tremendously joyful days!  Charismatic women who were eventually respected by many, they earned their way to that title by initiating actions and support for both friend and foe. 

Borte is the woman who is betrothed to the man who eventually became known as Genghis Khan but must wait many years for him to return to honor his betrothal promise.  In that time she meets Jamuka, the blood brother of Temujin (Genghis’s original name) and the passionate spark that flares between them will be the initial fire that eventually leads to the fulfillment of a devastating prophecy.  Honor indeed is not always rewarded, as future pages prove!  As a slave woman, Borte has to earn the respect of her new tribe’s shaman and her husband’s family.  She does so much better than that and earns the reader’s respect as she is gradually transformed from a woman who can command obedience to a woman and prophet who commands respect and even worship.

Alaqai should have been born a man for as the daughter of Genghis and Borte she would rather be learning spear-throwing, horseback riding and war tactics than playing with doll figures and learning how to sew and cook.  However, she is also very skilled at what she does and so quickly earns the admiration of fellow warriors.  Her victories on the plains of battle bring great joy that doesn’t, however, hide the pain behind her inability to have a child because she is spurned by her husband.  Here as well a gentle soul who loves Alaqai must wait in order to honor his vow of loyalty to his lord.  Treaties are quickly made and just as quickly broken for advantage.  Survival of the fittest is the mantra of the steppes and these feisty, courageous but also cruel men and women. 

Fatima is forced to watch as her precious Persian homeland is burned to the ground, its men and women tortured and killed or carried away in slavery.   She vows revenge on Alaqai who was the head of the forces responsible for the death of Fatima’s husband and child.  However, Torogene, the great Khan’s sister, takes a liking to Fatima and claims her as a slave.  Over time both women will truly experience the truth of what loyalty means even when complete agreement is impossible to attain. Both will also experience shocking consequences as a result of their avowed faithfulness to each other.

Finally, Sorkhokhtani is truly the peacemaker of all of these women.  Her gentle, graceful approach in many ways fools those who fail to perceive her acute perception.  When the great Khan died, his kingdom began its slow descent into destruction by the stupidity and drunkenness of his sons.  While the great Khan was humble and proud in all the correct ways, his sons allow their power to distort their thinking into perverse cruelty, inaction and self-aggrandizing battles.  Now Sorkhokhtani plots to have her sons, Mongke and Kublai, eventually respectively assume the role of “Great Khan.”

This is a thoroughly thrilling novel that sits right up there at the top with Conn Iggulden and Alex Rutherford’s account of Genghis Khan and his sons’ rivalry for his position.  The summary above belies the power and beauty in the descriptions on page after page of this mesmerizing story, revealing the glory of female woman in Mongolia and beyond. The plot seems simple; yet the characterization of each of these four dynamic woman is unique, setting the stage for history to unfold as it will (or won’t) and a constant thrill to follow.   The reader gets to share the starkly ugly and stunningly beautiful characters and environment around each lady.  History indeed comes alive in exciting, intriguing ways herein – relish every page as this reviewer did – this is MUST historical fiction reading!

What the Lady Wants: A Novel of Marshall Field and the Gilded Age by Renee Rosen

What the Lady Wants: A Novel of Marshall Field and the Gilded Age.  Renee Rosen. Penguin Group (USA). November 2014. 448 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451466716.

1871 Chicago – Delia Spencer is attending a ball and is fascinated by the men she sees examining the ladies, that is until she meets Marshall Field.  He’s an older man who exhibits all the graceful, polite but kind traits that attract an impressionable young lady just stepping out into the finest of society.  Delia is a very intelligent lady when it comes to appreciating the finest of fashions in clothes, interior decoration in any home, architecture, art, and more.  But all of that comes to a screeching halt when the same night as the ball the Great Fire of Chicago breaks out.  Delia, her family, and all of the City of Chicago are doing the best they can to stay ahead of the fire until they manage to get far from the City. It’s not just a fire – it’s a disaster that destroys all the major businesses of Delia’s family’s friends and acquaintances. It will be rebuilt.  The process symbolizes the upcoming life Delia and Marshall will share until 1906.

No, they will not marry yet for Marshall is married to Nannie, a hypochondriac woman whose only consolation is her laudanum that makes her even sicker and furiously jealous as well.  For it’s clear that Marshall and Delia share a spark that will grow into a friendship and later passionate love, a relationship few spouses ever achieve.  Marshall is just as married to his work and the reader will be fascinated as he rebuilds his lost business, beginning on the day after the fire.  He will argue with his partner for many years until Delia encourages him to strike out on his own.  She becomes pivotal in helping him to choose styles and designs for everything in his store, from clothing to jewelry to home products and more.  Later she will help him create a home away from home for all the ladies who live in and visit Chicago.  These pages are absolutely riveting and delightful, sure to be loved by anyone with a flair for beauty in one’s personal appearance or home.  Nothing, I repeat, nothing is left out or repeated; utterly spectacular!

Delia marries a man who has inherited money but has little else that he loves, other than his horses that he raises.  Arthur has a penchant that is totally unacceptable in the late 1800s; he and Delia will come to an agreement but one that is never wholly acceptable to either of them, one that will bring as much tragedy as it does satisfaction. Marshall is there for her through many shocking scenes that the reader will never forget.  His debacle with workers demonstrating and fighting for better pay, rights and other benefits is depicted with all of its passionate conflict and tension that is most likely precisely as it was in the famous Haymarket riots.

What the Lady Wants… is superb historical fiction that this reviewer loved and was so disappointed when it ended.  It has everything within it, fashion, mystery, crime, labor disputes, social refinement and snobbery, family support and opposition, tragedy and stunning success.  A MUST read and guaranteed to be a best seller!  A KEEPER!!! Exquisitely written, Renee Rosen!