Title: His Last Letter: Elizabeth I and the Earl of Leicester
Author: Jeane Westin
Release Date: August 3, 2010
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
His Last Letter chronicles the unrequited love story between Queen Elizabeth I and the Earl of Leicester, Robert Dudley. The novel spans the time from Queen Mary’s reign to Dudley’s death after the battle with the Spanish Armada.
I enjoyed Jeane Westin’s last historical fiction novel The Virgin’s Daughters, so I was excited to get to His Last Letter. I have to admit, though, that Queen Elizabeth isn’t a huge interest of mine when it comes to historical fiction. While I do know quite a bit about her life and have read a lot about her, she is difficult to stomach as she gets older. Incredibly prone to tantrums and rages, especially when it came to Dudley, she’s not exactly the shining monarch you think of.
Westin does a wonderful job portraying Elizabeth’s mercurial nature. She makes Elizabeth seem very human, a vulnerable woman whose husband is her country. While she loves Dudley and would give up almost anything to be with him, she can’t because it would cost her the love of her people, and maybe even her crown. Despite the fact that she is a queen and an entire country is subject to her whims, the reader can’t help but feel for her as all she wants is the man she loves and she can’t have him. While Elizabeth’s changeable nature is definitely on display, Westin also makes sure the reader realizes she was a flesh and blood person.
The chronology of this book didn’t really work as well. Westin starts out with Dudley’s death and then begins jumping in time, chapter by chapter. While I can understand why she didn’t want to tell the story chronologically – this is the story of Elizabeth I and Dudley, not of her reign, so there are large chunks of time not covered in the novel – it was an incredibly confusing technique. Westin actually provides an outline of when each chapter was occurring at the beginning of the book as a guide, and I found myself flipping to this more than once. I think the chronology issues should have been handled differently, as it made the novel incredibly hard to follow.
Westin includes some of the bigger events in Elizabeth I’s reign here, including the defeat of the Spanish Armada, and it’s very interesting to read. However, Westin does take some general liberties with history, and while she does address them in her author’s note, they are big enough to where I’m not sure I’d take the history she presents in her novel at its word.
Though His Last Letter had some flaws, I enjoyed it overall. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out to see what subject Westin tackles next.