Book Review: His Last Letter – Jeane Westin

Title: His Last Letter: Elizabeth I and the Earl of Leicester
Author: Jeane Westin
ISBN: 9780451230126
Pages: 400
Release Date: August 3, 2010
Publisher: NAL
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary:

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.

Review:

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.

Comments

  1. I’m just starting to learn about Elizabeth, was never interested in her before, and I like the sound of this very much. Thanks for pointing out the problems though, especially about not taking it for fact, because it’s so difficult to ascertain what is and what isn’t sometimes.

  2. I’m just starting to learn about Elizabeth, was never interested in her before, and I like the sound of this very much. Thanks for pointing out the problems though, especially about not taking it for fact, because it’s so difficult to ascertain what is and what isn’t sometimes.

  3. I have read an awful lot about Henry VIII and his wives, but for some reason, Elizabeth has escaped my attention. I know there are a lot of books and movies out there about her life, and as a matter of fact, I am in the middle of one that deals with the entire Tudor reign (but so far, I have only read Henry’s section) This does sound interesting to me for a lot of reasons, but I am wondering if the chronology problems would frustrate me. I am going to have to try to take a closer look at this book in person and give it a try. It sounds like there was a lot to like, but some problems as well. Thanks for your honest thoughts on this book!

  4. I have read an awful lot about Henry VIII and his wives, but for some reason, Elizabeth has escaped my attention. I know there are a lot of books and movies out there about her life, and as a matter of fact, I am in the middle of one that deals with the entire Tudor reign (but so far, I have only read Henry’s section) This does sound interesting to me for a lot of reasons, but I am wondering if the chronology problems would frustrate me. I am going to have to try to take a closer look at this book in person and give it a try. It sounds like there was a lot to like, but some problems as well. Thanks for your honest thoughts on this book!

  5. I enjoy altered chronologies, but only when they are handled really really well. If I had to keep flipping to some sort of cheat sheet, I would just be frustrated.

  6. I enjoy altered chronologies, but only when they are handled really really well. If I had to keep flipping to some sort of cheat sheet, I would just be frustrated.

  7. I do love Elizabeth the First, but the chronology being done poorly repulses me here. I hope Westin’s next book deals with it better.

  8. I do love Elizabeth the First, but the chronology being done poorly repulses me here. I hope Westin’s next book deals with it better.

  9. I haven’t tried a Tudor book yet, if you can believe that. I think I’ll try one other than this first.

  10. I haven’t tried a Tudor book yet, if you can believe that. I think I’ll try one other than this first.

  11. You seemed to like this one a little better than I did. I also had problems with the chronology of the book. It was confusing and it was a little annoying.

    I had some problems with Elizabeth, and her relationship with Dudley. They didn’t seem much in sync. She was so cruel that I didn’t get why he liked her.

  12. You seemed to like this one a little better than I did. I also had problems with the chronology of the book. It was confusing and it was a little annoying.

    I had some problems with Elizabeth, and her relationship with Dudley. They didn’t seem much in sync. She was so cruel that I didn’t get why he liked her.

  13. I always have liked the Tudors. Also heard much of this book. Thank you for this post.

  14. I always have liked the Tudors. Also heard much of this book. Thank you for this post.

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