“Consorts both in throne and grave, here rest we two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in the hope of one resurrection.” This is the epitaph that lies over the tomb of two powerful queens of England: Mary Tudor and her sister, Elizabeth I. In these two brilliant historical fiction novels, Mary, Bloody Mary and Beware Princess Elizabeth, Carolyn Meyer explores the lives of these two sisters using an autobiographical narrative style.
In Mary, Bloody Mary, we see Mary develop from a sensitive young girl into a bitter woman due to the circumstances she is thrust into. In the prologue, Mary tells us “Before you judge me, hear my story . . .” and this is what Carolyn Meyer encourages us to do, showing us how the annulment of Mary's parents' marriage and the way her father treats her mother probably contributed to Mary's bitter attitude. The situation only worsens when Mary's father marries a charming young woman, Anne Boleyn. Trapped by her position as an unwanted daughter, Mary is forced to be a servant to her half-sister, Anne Boleyn's child, Elizabeth. We see how Mary comes to be known as 'Bloody Mary', one of the most ruthless queens of England, who orders the death of hundreds of those with opposing religious beliefs, in her short 5-year reign.
Beware Princess Elizabeth follows the life of Elizabeth (Mary's half-sister) leading up to her crowning as queen. In her prologue, Elizabeth tells us, “. . . I promise you, history will remember me, Elizabeth, not for who my father was, or my mother or my sister, but for myself.” Carolyn Meyer reveals often overlooked details of Elizabeth's life as a teenager which shaped her to become one of the most famous queens of all time. As a young girl, Elizabeth suffers the loss of her mother by beheading at the command of her father, King Henry VIII. The book begins with the death of her father, when she and her half-brother, Edward, and half-sister, Mary, are left alone in the world. The story reaches a climax when Mary is crowned as queen and imprisons the half-sister, Elizabeth, she once loved. It takes great courage for Elizabeth to overcome the obstacles Mary puts in her way, and she learns many lessons, until she at last fulfils her destiny and becomes Queen of England.
I found these novels a really enjoyable read, giving me a good insight into the history of the period and England's monarchy. While not written by a Christian, overall I found the content edifying as it was certainly written for young teenagers and so didn't have any of the inappropriate material found so often in books of this genre. It was also a more manageable length than similar books (each book being around 230 pages long). However, it was at times difficult to work out where Carolyn Meyer crossed the line between fact and fiction. As she herself writes, “Some details have been altered to enhance the story.”
However, for those looking for a enjoyable, entertaining and informative book, they will find this to be a truly rewarding read.