Review: The Marriage Game

Posted 10 February, 2015 by Lianne in Books / 2 Comments

The Marriage Game
By: Alison Weir
Format/Source: Advanced Reading Copy courtesy of the publishers via GoodReads First Reads programme

The new novel from the New York Times bestselling historian Alison Weir tells the story of one of history’s most scandalous love affairs: the romance between the new, young “Virgin Queen” Elizabeth I and her handsome married courtier, Lord Robert Dudley.

He is her dashing Master of Horse. She is the 25-year-old newly crowned English Queen, a title she holds only because there is no male heir to inherit it. Yet in spite of her tenuous hold on the throne, young Queen Elizabeth begins a flagrant flirtation with the handsome but married Lord Robert, taking long unchaperoned horseback rides with him and constantly having him at her side. Many believe them to be lovers, and over time the rumors grow that Elizabeth is no virgin at all, and that she has secretly borne Lord Robert’s child. When Robert’s wife is found dead, lying at the bottom of a staircase with her neck broken, there is universal shock followed by accusations of murder.

Picking up where Alison Weir’s bestselling novel to date, The Lady Elizabeth, left off (but standing completely alone), The Marriage Game tells the dramatic story of the “Virgin Queen’s” reign, framed by Elizabeth’s long and tumultuous relationship with Lord Robert. Did they or didn’t they? Rivers of ink have been spilled in determining the answer to this burning historical question, and you can be sure Alison Weir has strong opinions about Elizabeth’s questionable virginity, based on a lifetime of research. But fiction gives her a free hand to explore this intriguing love affair in its every colourful detail, and the resulting novel is one of her best.

I’ve read one of Alison Weir’s nonfiction books before (Lancaster and York–very good book if you want to read more about the War of the Roses, btw) and knew that she had written a number of fiction titles, but I never read any. I was thus pleasantly surprised to learn that I won an ARC of this novel from GoodReads. This book will be available on 10 February 2015.

For starters, Alison Weir clearly knows her stuff re: this period. This novel pretty much follows Elizabeth’s reign, facing all sorts of issues from foreign invasion to religious and lay uprisings, traitors at court, and the question of Elizabeth marrying. Of course her reign and many of the political issues she had to sort out tied in to the question of her marrying in some way, and Elizabeth juggles this as best as she could by stalling and evading, making vague promises, and considering her options to keep everyone at bay but at the same time staying true to what she wants. It’s honestly frustrating and I felt so bad for her; she’s a woman who, brilliant as she is, has every right to rule, but almost all of her decisions are hounded by everyone’s interest in seeing her married despite of the implications it would make to her rule, as well as the choices available to her. Her struggle to rule in a man’s world was interesting to read.

I also appreciate the author bringing out other aspects to Elizabeth not necessarily related to her queenship, but that as a young woman who wants love at her own terms, but also a young woman who grew up not knowing her mother and mourned for her, but who greatly desired to see her rehabilitated in the eyes of the people and in the histories. Her frustrations of the limitations of her power, an early lesson in the burden she bears, was sad to see. On the question of love, it was also sad to realise as the novel progressed how much she had given up, the consequences she had to face, as a result of keeping England’s enemies at bay and courting all of these offers of marriage and securing her rule.

While the story kept me engaged, it felt like reading a textbook at times, clinical in going through the scenes and bringing up one political incident after another. The will-they-won’t-they pull with Lord Robert, while it was interesting to read their dynamic and how politics kept coming in between them, after a while grew rather tedious to read, evoking frustration from me towards both parties.

In the end though, The Marriage Game was an interesting read. On a personal note, it was a good refresher on Elizabeth I’s reign and the challenges that she faced when she became queen, but while it held my attention the story seemed pretty straightforward (again, for those who know this period of history) and didn’t add too much to the reading experience except by way of touching on some other aspects of Elizabeth not related directly to her rule. Readers of historical fiction and of the Tudor dynasty may find this novel interesting to check out.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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2 Responses to “Review: The Marriage Game”

  1. Great review! I’ve wondered about Alison Weir’s fiction (I actually have a copy of Innocent Traitor, but haven’t read it yet). I’ve read pieces of her non-fiction works, and wondered how she’d be able to write both fiction and non-fiction about the same people and time period.

    • It must be an interesting experience for her, researching for her non-fiction works, and then having all that information and imagining events for her fiction novels. I thought it was pretty interesting how she had a handle of all of the characters from this period 🙂

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