Title: The Virgin’s Daughters: In the Court of Elizabeth I
Author: Jeane Westin
Release Date: August 4, 2009
Publisher: NAL Trade
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
From the publisher’s website:
In a court filled with repressed sexual longing, scandal, and intrigue, Lady Katherine Grey is Elizabeth’s most faithful servant. When the young queen is smitten by the dashing Robert Dudley, Katherine must choose between duty and desire—as her secret passion for a handsome earl threatens to turn Elizabeth against her. Once the queen becomes a bitter and capricious monarch, another lady-in-waiting, Mistress Mary Rogers, offers the queen comfort. But even Mary cannot remain impervious to the court’s sexual tension—and as Elizabeth gives her doomed heart to the mercurial Earl of Essex, Mary is drawn to the queen’s rakish godson…
When I first heard about The Virgin’s Daughters, I was really confused by the title. I knew it was about Elizabeth’s ladies-in-waiting; was it going to claim that some of them were the Virgin Queen’s daughters? However, after reading this book, the answer is clear: Elizabeth I considered her younger ladies-in-waiting her daughters because she knew she would have no children.
It’s really interesting that Westin chose to tell two stories in The Virgin’s Daughters, rather than just one. Both are about love affairs of ladies-in-waiting, but the really interesting part is how different the two tales are. Katherine Grey is impulsive; she changes her mind on a whim. She has to follow her emotions, no matter the consequences. She thinks with her heart, rather than her head.
Mary is more level-headed. Though she too falls hopelessly in love, she is much more rational about it. She realizes what the consequences could be, and acts only after weighing these very carefully. It’s not that Katherine didn’t think about what might happen to her; after all, her sister was Lady Jane Grey, who was beheaded for treason. She was well aware of what could occur, but rationalized things in her head to a fault. In a lot of ways, I found Mary to be much smarter and a much more interesting character, though Katherine’s story had me captivated as well.
I also liked the portrayal of Elizabeth I in The Virgin’s Daughters. Westin manages to show her has having a lot of contradictions within her character. She was as strong as any man, yet needed Robert Dudley by her side at all times. She was quick to forgive betrayal by her favorite men, but if one of her ladies-in-waiting went against her wishes, there was no mercy. She expected her “daughters” to make the same sacrifice she had. They were expected to give up their lives for her, but in return, they had the confidence of a Queen. I appreciated this complicated character; it must have been difficult to balance her different sides, yet Westin makes it looks effortless and easy.
The Virgin’s Daughters is Jeane Westin’s first historical fiction novel, but you’d never know that by the skill she displays in this book. I hope she sticks with this genre in the future; if so, I will definitely make it a point to read her next book!