Thursday, June 11, 2015

Review: The Marriage Game

Allison Weir

The Marriage Game

By Alison Weir
Ballantine Books, February 2015

About the Book

In this compelling novel of Tudor drama and suspense, acclaimed author Alison Weir brings to life one of England’s most scandalous royal love affairs: the romance between the “Virgin Queen,” Elizabeth I, and her courtier, Lord Robert Dudley.

Only twenty-five and newly crowned, Elizabeth vows to rule the country as both queen and king. But her counselors continually press her to form an advantageous marriage and produce an heir. Though none of the suitors have yet worked their way to her throne, the dashing—though married—Lord Robert lays claim to Elizabeth’s heart. Their flagrant flirting, their unescorted outings, and the appointment of Lord Robert to Master of Horse inspire whispers through the court, and even rumors that Elizabeth has secretly given birth to Lord Robert’s child.

Events take a dark turn when Robert’s wife is found dead. Universal shock is followed by accusations of murder. Despite the scandal, Elizabeth and Robert manage to navigate the choppy political, economic, and religious waters around them. But the greatest obstacle to marriage between the Queen and her true love may come not from outside forces, but from within.

With intricate period detail and captivating prose, Alison Weir explores one of history’s most provocative “Did they or didn’t they?” debates. The Marriage Game maneuvers through the alliances, duplicities, intrigue, and emotions of a woman intent on sovereignty—over her country and herself.

My Review

Alison Weir follows her novel The Lady Elizabeth with The Marriage Game, a story that details Elizabeth I’s precarious negotiations on the European marriage market spanning roughly 25 years. The true love of Elizabeth’s life, her childhood friend Robert Dudley, is a married man whose wife Amy sickens, and then mysteriously dies. Elizabeth bounces between French, Spanish, and English suitors, never committing but always coquettish, while Dudley—the one man she can’t have as he is married, of lower status, and the son of a traitor—is the one she desires most. Even so, Elizabeth keeps Dudley on tenterhooks, allowing him intimacy and providing him with lavish gifts and titles, but never fully consummating their relationship or setting a date for marriage. Age doesn’t slow Elizabeth’s zeal for playing the game, and she keeps a rotating array of suitors on the line until she nears 50 years of age.

I’m afraid Ms. Weir really let me down with this one. Although her non-fiction is stellar, this novel falls short. Reading this book is like being on a never-ending carousel ride—the scenery never changes and it becomes tiresome. The same scenario is played out repeatedly, regardless of the suitor, and all the characters (and the reader too) quickly become exasperated with Elizabeth’s antics. It isn’t a very complimentary picture of Elizabeth. She comes off as unstable, shallow, prone to histrionics, manipulative, and even occasionally, malicious. You start to question Robert’s intelligence when he sticks around to be her lap dog for as long as he does. She seems to delight in pulling him toward her, and then shoving him away. You certainly sympathize with her mistreated advisors who must cater to Elizabeth’s ever-changing whims, however.

It was a challenge to finish the book. I would point readers towards Ms. Weir’s excellent non-fiction options instead.

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