In 1565, seventeen-year-old Elin von Snakenborg leaves Sweden on a treacherous journey to England. Her fiancé 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 her unyielding monarch and the husband she’s not sure she can trust—a choice that will provoke catastrophic consequences.
A rich, tautly woven tale of love, deception, and grace, Roses Have Thorns vividly conjures the years leading up to the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots and is a brilliant exploration of treason, both to the realm and to the heart.
When I was young, I spent a number of years living within walking distance of Hampton Court Palace. Back then, the grounds were free to enter and so my mother and I would often picnic there. Consequently, I’ve always had somewhat of an interest in the Tudors. As a child, I learned to recite the names of the six wives of Henry VIII – and their fates – and I knew that Elizabeth could be considered to be the most successful of his three heirs. I also knew a little about Robert Dudley, the only man Elizabeth might have chosen to marry. When I opted to review Roses Have Thorns, however, I hadn’t heard of Elin von Snakenborg. I didn’t know she had actually existed until I researched her first husband, William Parr. I then read about her life and the lives of those around her before continuing to read the novel.
As a historical record of the Swedish noblewoman who became Marchioness of Northampton, the book is mostly accurate. The narrative begins with Elin leaving her homeland and finishes with an epilogue set at the time of Elizabeth’s death in 1603. Elin died in 1634, so the last portion of her life is left out, including the death of her beloved second husband, Thomas Gorges. There are parts of the story that are either embellished or possibly made up in order to create a more interesting tale.
The problem with this book, however, is its blandness. It’s written in the first person and reads like a factual report of various events in Elin’s life; as though she was writing for someone she didn’t know. We get large chunks of descriptive narrative about subjects as varied as dresses and treason. Elin has opinions on a couple of subjects, but rarely do we glimpse her feelings. How does she feel when her first husband dies, or when her second husband is sent to the Tower of London so soon after their wedding? The writing lacks emotion. More often than not, it is a case of, “I grieved, and then I moved on because the Queen needed me.”
This is the first time I’ve read anything by Sandra Byrd, and so I can’t say if this is symptomatic of all her books. It wasn’t until I was halfway through that I learned that this was part of a series called Ladies in Waiting. The other two are To Die For (about Anne Boleyn) and The Secret Keeper (regarding Catherine Parr, although Byrd uses the unusual spelling Kateryn which is a variant which I had not previously come across.) In conclusion, I appreciated the historic content of Roses Have Thorns, but did not enjoy the presentation of it.
Thank you to Howard Books for my free electronic copy of Roses Have Thorns, which I downloaded from NetGalley. No review was required.
Publisher: Howard Books (a division of Simon & Schuster)
Publication Date: 09 April 2013
Page Count: 336