Book review: The Queen’s Secret by Victoria Lamb

Young Lucy Morgan is just one of the many singers and entertainers whose job it is to help while away the hours for England’s magnificent but restless Tudor queen...

By Pam Norfolk
Wednesday, 26th September 2012, 10:00 am

But Lucy is no ordinary teenager – in the court of Elizabeth I, her black African skin and eyes mark her out as strange and different, a cursed motherless girl who could well be the bringer of bad luck.

What few know is that as well as being able to sing ‘like a skylark,’ Lucy has been raised in London by Master Goodluck, an expert in the art of espionage and a trusted agent for the realm’s famous spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham.

And in the long, hot summer of 1575, when treachery abounds and the queen is on the move, a seemingly innocent young girl is perfectly placed to be the court’s ‘listening ear.’

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Welcome to the excitement and drama of Elizabethan England care of debut novelist Victoria Lamb whose daring and delightfully different heroine transports us to the heart of the scheming and dangerous world of the Virgin Queen.

The Queen’s Secret is set during the monarch’s real-life stay at Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire where the wealthy Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and a royal ‘favourite, famously laid on a 19-day extravaganza in a last-ditch attempt to persuade Elizabeth to marry him.

Using this memorable occasion as the background for her novel, Lamb weaves a fascinating and gripping story of romance, betrayal, intrigue and deadly danger around the character of Lucy, a woman, we learn, who actually existed and may well have been one of Elizabeth’s army of attendants.

When the queen arrives at Kenilworth amid pomp, fanfare and a wealth of lavish festivities, Dudley knows this is his very last chance to win her hand.

To woo the reluctant queen, he has stopped all the clocks and turned the castle into Camelot but, despite his driving ambition to be king, Leicester is unable to resist the seductive charms of Lettice Knollys, Elizabeth’s cousin and wife of the Earl of Essex.

And soon whispers of their relationship start spreading through the court...

At 42, the queen is starting to feel her age and enraged by the growing intimacy of Dudley and Lettice, she employs Lucy to spy on the couple.

Lucy, who has found her own romantic interest in Tom Black, a stableman to the Earl and also of African origin, knows all the tricks of the espionage trade but her investigations uncover far more than she had bargained for.

Someone at Kenilworth is plotting to kill the queen and no longer able to tell friend from foe, Lucy soon finds herself in as much peril as her queen...

Lamb’s clever and compelling story opens a window onto an uncertain queen who constantly faced plots to assassinate her and whose outward bravery concealed a beguiling mental fragility.

With a guest appearance by the young William Shakespeare and a cast of other famous faces, Tudor fans will be delighted to learn that Lamb is already working on her next Lucy Morgan novel!

(Corgi, paperback, £6.99)