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Reviewed by Colleen Turner
It is with a heavy heart that young Elin von Snakenborg leaves Sweden, bound for England as part of Princess Cecilia’s entourage making the long, treacherous journey in the hopes of brokering a marriage between Queen Elizabeth of England and the Swedish King Erik. Right before leaving, Elin discovered that her fiancé was in love with her sister and her deceased father had gambled away part of her dowry, making her planned marriage uncertain at best. It is only upon arriving in England and meeting the kind and chivalrous William Parr, Marquis of Northampton, one of the highest ranking men in the country, that Elin’s spirits begin to lift. The excitement continues when William asks Elin to stay in England and become his wife when the rest of her party returns to Sweden. But it is only after her countrymen leave that Elin discovers William hasn’t been completely honest with her.
Due to questions regarding whether William was still married to his first wife, they are not able to proceed with the wedding. Left stranded in a strange country with no family or friends, the queen kindly offers Elin a place at court as a maid of honor. It is under the tender guidance of both the queen and her chief ladies that Elin, now going by the English name Helena, learns how to become a true Englishwoman and how to serve her queen with poise and dignity. It will take five years for their marriage to happen but once it does Helena becomes the Marchioness of Northampton, the highest ranking woman in England under the queen. And with this advancement in rank, the relationship between these two women continues to deepen.
After William dies, the feelings between Helena and another English gentleman, Thomas Gorges, intensifie and it seems like Helena’s chances to have it all – the chance to not only serve the queen as one of her closest ladies but to also have a passionate marriage with children – might become a reality. But how will Helena be able to balance the constant demands of the queen with the demands of a wife and mother? And when Helena must decide where her primary loyalty lays, with her queen or with her husband, which will she pick?
I have read all three books in Sandra Byrd’s Ladies in Waiting series and, while I have really enjoyed them all, Roses Have Thorns was by far my favorite. Being a huge fan of Tudor historical fiction, I was delighted to find a real member of Elizabeth’s court that I had never heard of. The relationship between Helena and Elizabeth is touching and they are presented as having both love and respect for each other. Through Helena’s eyes we see an Elizabeth that is not only smart, haughty and sometimes demanding but one that is compassionate and willing to set her own deep desire for romantic love and children aside for what is best for her country. We get to peek behind the hard mask of royalty to see the sad and lonely flesh and blood woman underneath.
The other aspect of Roses Have Thorns that I enjoyed was Helena’s struggles to juggle her demanding responsibilities at court with her responsibilities to her husband and children. While this is obviously at a different level, I think many working women will be able to see a little bit of themselves in Helena’s struggles and will be able to sympathize with the many sacrifices she will have to make in that ever shifting balance.
Roses Have Thorns hits on many of the tumultuous events surrounding Elizabeth’s reign that so many other books have as well, namely her extended battle with Mary, Queen of Scots, the constant struggle between the Catholic and Protestant factions within England, the continuous pressures to marry and produce an heir and her battle with Spain. What makes the book wholly unique to me is the humanization of the virgin queen and her close relationship with her Swedish lady in waiting. Any fan of historical fiction, especially surrounding the Tudors, will love this.
Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.
Review and giveaway copies were provided free of any obligation by Howard Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.