The Marriage Game, by Alison Weir

Four stars (of five)

Queen Mary is dead! Long live Queen Elizabeth! So begins the latest Weir novel, in which the reader is carried through the life of the final Tudor monarch and her strong-willed beliefs. Labelled the “Virgin Queen”, Elizabeth held firm to her beliefs that she need not marry, which all but kept her from producing an heir. Weir examines Elizabeth’s sentiments on the matter, while juxtaposing the worst-kept secret in Elizabeth’s life; her longtime, scandalous royal love affair with Lord Robert Dudley. While Elizabeth happily runs the country as both queen and king, her closest advisors attempt to find a suitor to create needed political alliances and bring forth a child. Elizabeth continues a sordid affair with Dudley, crossing all thresholds save that of intercourse, with a devastating fear of pregnancy and its associated pains. While Dudley pledges his heart to her, even while still married, their relationship never takes the step that he wants and Elizabeth fears most, marriage. Weir parallels the marriage search with the Elizabeth-Dudley strain, spanning decades, which eventually sours their long friendship. Dudley’s patience wears thin and Elizabeth cannot stand criticism of her eventually consideration to wed in order to save England on the continent. What began as a game has turned into a war of emotions, where no one is safe from decimation.

Weir uses her fictional accounts of historical events to bring the reader deep into the goings-on of the Tudor family. While exploring the role Elizabeth feels she has in the larger Tudor/Henry VIII drama, vindication of Anne Boleyn is at the heart of her reign. Weir also addresses the struggles of the few short-lived monarchs after Henry VIII’s death and the vicious treatment Mary took on her half-sister while re-Catholicising England for a short period. With Mary Queen of Scots raising issues in the north, Elizabeth’s struggles were by no means solely her own, as she sought to cement her place in history, knowing she had no heir to take over once she left the throne. As the continent explodes and alliances may be the only way for England to save herself, Elizabeth must play the role of monarch and negotiate for the best of her people, putting her own preferences aside. Powerfully written and thoroughly researched, Weir amazes readers with such a smooth and easy to follow novel at the height of English monarchical rule.

Kudos, Madam Weir for another powerful novel. You have a great handle on the Tudors and the drama they created. I look forward to your future stories, as they always teach an entertain simultaneously.