Sunday, January 01, 2006

Queen of Ambition (An Ursula Blanchard Mystery at Queen Elizabeth I's Court) by Fiona Buckley

It is the summer of 1564 and Queen Elizabeth I and her court are on progress through the land. In a couple of weeks time they will be staying at Cambridge and there is much excitement. There is also a suspicion of danger as a group of young students have requested permission to perform a playlet for the Queen which would involve the kidnapping of a woman and Robert Dudley being his chivalrous self and rescuing the woman by performing a mock sword fight with one of the students. Sir William Cecil is concerned that there will be drawn swords in such close proximity to the Queen and so sends Ursula Blanchard to inveszigate to ensure that the Queen is not in danger.

Jester's pie shop seems to be the meeting place and central focus of the students involved and so Ursula is sent to work in the shop for the bullyish owner Roland Jester. Jester's daughter Ambrosia also works there with a couple of other employees. Ursula manages to make arrangements to meet with one of the young men, Thomas Shawe, who has some concerns about the playlet, but before he can meet her, Thomas dies in what looks like an unfortunate accident. However it turns out that Thomas and Ambrosia were involved and her father would not allow them to marry. The fact that Thomas had agreed to meet her, but is now dead was a bit too much of a coincidence for Ursula and she sets about investigating his death.

Whilst I do enjoy reading this series, it is in no way a perfect experience. The books are written in first person and sometimes the way she chooses to reveal information to the reader is a bit irritating. Ursula tells us that she has found something out, but it is not revealed for a few more pages.

A couple of other things in this book that I didn't really like were the insistence of the author to labour home the fact that Ursula feels some kind of attraction to her manservant Roger Brockley despite the fact that she is his boss and that they are both married - Roger to Ursula's maidservant Fran Dale, and Ursula to Matthew de la Roche. Ursula is waiting for the all clear from Matthew so that she can rejoin him in France as there has been an outbreak of the plague where he lives, and she does not wish to expose her daughter or herself to the plague. The way that Matthew is dealt with at the end of this book seems like a very good way to deal with the problem of how to have a respectable married woman travel all over the countryside to spy for the Queen without arising suspicion, but seems a little drastic for my liking. The disintegrating relationship with Rob Henderson also left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. Rob has been Ursula's ally several times during the series, and Ursula's daughter Meg lived with Rob and his wife while Ursula was at court, so for their friendship to change in the way it did seemed a little heartless to me.

The plot in this one is pretty complicated, including a very laborious code breaking exercise, but the twist in the plot is very well done, and added immeasurably to the reading experience for me. The books are full of historical detail, and are pretty well written as well, so it is off to the library for me some time this week to get the next book in the series, A Pawn for a Queen.

Rating 4 out of 5

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