Author: Kathy Lynn Emerson
Rating: 3 stars
I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for a fair review.
I love arrogant, know-it-all characters. The Sherlock Holmeses of the world may be annoying in reality, but can be a joy to read. One thing you don’t see very often in fiction, however, is arrogant women characters.
Rosamond Jaffrey, the heroine of Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe, is one such of these. She is smart, egotistical, brash, and the best part of a fairly mediocre mystery. I really enjoyed her, though the plot didn’t always match up to her vivacity and promise.
It’s 1582. Rosamond Jaffrey, the bastard daughter of a nobleman, enjoys an independent life, having wrested control of a fortune through a marriage of convenience. But then an old family friend comes to recruit her to spy for him in the household of Lady Mary, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth. Lady Mary is being pushed for a marriage with Ivan the Terrible, and Rosamond has an affinity for languages, including Russian. Still, she’s not interested, until she learns that her estranged husband is currently in Muscovy, and that he and all the other Englishmen with him live only at the whim of an unhinged emperor.
There’s a lot of good elements at play here. In most mystery and romance historicals of this type, the antagonists are usually either domestic or French. I can’t ever recall seeing a story hinge on conflict between England and Russia (aka, Muscovy), and I was totally on board for that (all the history I’ve read over the years, and I didn’t even know Queen Elizabeth and Ivan the Terrible were contemporaries!). Also, when I read Elizabethan stuff it tends to be early. 1582 is 25 years into Elizabeth’s reign, when she is 50, and though she doesn’t make an onscreen appearance, I liked that. Then of course there is Rosamond herself. She sneaks out in disguise to go to plays. She has a mostly unexplored mysterious background that serves as fodder for future sequels. She is smart–she knows about poisons and medicines, languages and the science of the day–rational, atheist, and egotistical.
The mystery and suspense, however, was where the book faltered. Early in the book the titular murder occurs, then Lady Mary is threatened and almost killed. The suspects and red herrings are dutifully presented, but I just didn’t find myself caring about them. I didn’t feel any imminent danger, even when Lady Mary was attacked with chemicals, or when Rosamond’s husband was quite literally chained to a prison wall. I still don’t know why these things didn’t bring me into the story, only that I felt a curious distance towards the whole thing.
Towards the end, things take a sharp turn towards the ridiculous and melodramatic, and the end felt incredibly rushed. I honestly do not know how much of this novel is based on historical fact, so I don’t know how much it was hampered by it, but I would have liked the pacing to be a little more on point.
Still, Rosamond is such a breath of fresh air for a female character that I’d gladly pick up another book about her. I just hope all the plot kinks work out better next time.