(Originally from All About Romance)
November 2007, Renaissance Romance (1560s Scotland)
HQN, $7.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373772319
Shannon Drake’s The Queen’s Lady begins in 1561, a tumultuous time for Scotland, as Mary, Queen of Scots, makes her way back to her homeland for the first time in decades, following the death of her husband, the King of France.
She is accompanied by the fictional Lady Gwyneth Macleod, who functions as the Queen’s lady-in-waiting, confidante, and advisor on all things Scottish. Unlike the Queen’s other ladies – the not so fictional Marys – Gwyneth only joined the Queen in the last year, and therefore has a much more recent knowledge of the Queen’s country of birth and the political and social realities therein.
Upon arriving in Scotland, Mary is met by more than a few of the lairds, ready to escort the Queen to her home. Though there are some hesitations, they seem loyal and ready to serve her. The most loyal is Rowan Graham, Laird of Lochraven, a relation of the Queen’s, descended from an illegitimate but recognized branch of the family.
Rowan and Gwyneth clash from the very beginning, both headstrong, neither willing to see the other’s point of view. However, as romance readers, I bet you can see where this is going, yes? Rowan is impressed by Gwyneth’s loyalty and fierceness. Gwyneth is attracted to Rowan’s strength and determination. A trip to Rowan’s home cements their feelings for each other. They, naturally, fight it for awhile – not least because the Queen has definitely not sanctioned the union – but eventually succumb.
Problems arise, though, when the Queen herself falls in love. Set against the political backdrop of a time of turmoil, it seems unlikely that both of them will survive, let alone live happily ever after.
This should have been a great read, full of intrigue, mystery, violence, and love. It’s one of my favorite periods in history, and Scotland is a perfect setting for a dark and dangerous love affair. Unfortunately, The Queen’s Lady just never managed to lift off the page. The research and the time is convincingly rendered – if, of course, fictionalized somewhat – but somehow even the use of great characters like Mary and Queen Elizabeth failed to give this story the boost it really needed.
The main characters themselves were equally flat. I never got the sense that I actually knew any of them. Gwyneth is perfect, her loyalty unwavering; she never crosses over into irritating, but neither does she ever seem human. We don’t get deep enough in Rowan to get a feel for him, and Mary, unfortunately, feels very much “told” and not “shown.”
Sadly, this is one of those books that never realized its potential. The time period was interesting enough to keep reading, but it won’t be a story that stays with me.