Time For a Tudor History Lesson: A Review of The Tudor Secret by C.W. Gortner
Hello, Book Nerds! Welcome back to Reading Has Ruined My Life or welcome if you are new. As always, my name is Hannah and I am your captain on this journey into my bookcases.
First of all, special hello to Croatia today. Nice to see y'all! Hope you enjoy your time here.
We are done with our “Wake Not the Dead” double feature. This week, we now return to our regularly scheduled book reviews. Speaking of which, I got a good one for ya today.
Many moons ago, I came across a book in the clearance section; a book which quickly caught my eye. One thing to know about me is that I love royal history, and ever since Six premiered, I’ve had blinders on for Tudor history. I know too much about the six wives of Henry VIII.
Surprisingly, the book I’m reviewing today is not about any of the six wives, but it is about the Tudor era. So please welcome to the stage: The Tudor Secret by C.W. Gortner!
History, mystery, courtly intrigue; sign me up! As always, a spoiler alert is in order. Long time readers know I love to spoil a good amount of the books I review. Without further ado, let’s get to the synopsis.
We follow young squire Brendan Prescott as he travels to ye ole London Town for the first time ever. He was raised in the country house of the Dudley family, who Tudor history buffs know all too well. Back to Brendan, he joins English court at a very difficult time. Unbeknownst to the vast majority of the court, King Edward VI is dying. Per his father’s, Henry VIII’s, will, should Edward die without an heir of his own then Edward's elder sister Mary is next in line for the throne. Obviously this can’t happen cause Mary, AKA Bloody Mary, is Catholic.
This is where fact and fiction begin to divulge. Our dear Brendan Prescott is given a mission to deliver a message to Elizabeth, yes the Virgin Queen, from the one and only Robert Dudley; yes, the same Robert Dudley Queen Elizabeth I is said to have been deeply in love with. Anyway, back to our story. Brendan Prescott finds himself embroiled in courtly intrigue and subterfuge upon delivering this letter. Through the course of the story, he finds himself working for the Dudley’s, then Elizabeth, and even Mary at one point.
This mission at large is to prevent the Dudley family from taking control of the English throne. You see, Edward VI is still a teen and is under their protection until he turns 18, but he’s dying. Mary, as stated, is Catholic and her taking the throne just can’t happen. So the plan is to change the line of succession, have a Dudley son marry Jane Grey, a distant cousin of the Tudor dynasty, and get the couple on the throne.
The plot is still close to what happened in history, but something about Edward VI’s illness and eventual death don’t seem to add up in this version of events. Brendan finds himself growing close to Elizabeth and working with her to discover the truth behind her brother’s illness. Brendan is also working with Elizabeth to make sure Mary is the one to take over the throne.
As I was writing this synopsis I realized one thing: this book requires a history lesson to fully enjoy. The thought never occurred to me as I was reading The Tudor Secret. Writing that synopsis was difficult though. Everyone has a different knowledge level. Most people know the names Elizabeth I and Henry VIII; I don’t know how many people know the names Robert Dudley or Edward VI. How many of these names can I drop and expect people to know who I’m talking about? Quite the challenge if I’m being honest. I hope everyone was able to follow along in the synopsis.
I also realize that some readers may need a detailed chart to keep all the characters straight. A family tree would have been nice, and I say that as someone who knows a decent bit of Tudor history. I do not know the extended Tudor family tree that well, and one would have been helpful given one of the final plot twists.
Said detailed chart is also necessary for the characters who aren’t royalty. As this book revolves around English court and spies, characters have multiple names and aliases. Some characters also go by their titles. It gets confusing real quick. I can only imagine how confusing this book can get for someone not versed in Tudor history or is even worse than me at keeping characters straight.
C.W. Gortner has done something pretty phenomenal though. Gortner has managed to weave a tale where truth and actual historic events walk alongside pure fiction. For that I applaud the author. Also, the changes to history that Gortner makes are well thought out, feel plausible, and make the story/mystery work. While readers obviously know those changes aren’t correct or fact, it’s easy to suspend one’s disbelief because the writing is done so well.
I can’t say the same about the book’s romantic subplot. Brendan obviously needs a lady love and he finds that in one of Elizabeth Tudor’s ladies-in-waiting. Lady Kate is the feisty lady-in-waiting of Elizabeth Tudor and that’s her whole personality. Oh, she’s also a bit of a flirt like all the ladies of the time were. Kate is a little static to say the least. The issue isn’t just with Kate though.
The romance itself lacks greatly. Basically their whole relationship is the pair meet, she puts him in his place and displays her wit, they sleep together, and Brendan proposes. I’m supposed to believe these two are in love? Where is the depth? Where is the pining? Where are literally any more interactions!?
I will say this, there is a decent amount of unbelievable aspects in The Tudor Secret yet Brendan and Kate’s relationship takes the cake. All of it is simply unnecessary.
For the most part, this story was enjoyable. I do not suggest reading it when you’re literally falling asleep and everything confuses you, but I do think it’s a good historical fiction novel with a touch of mystery. Honestly, the mystery isn’t super shocking, or really much of a mystery as there is only one main villain throughout the plot, but it’s an enjoyable look at Renaissance espionage. Ok, it’s not actually true Renaissance espionage but just roll with it, the story is much more enjoyable that way.
With that, I must bid you all adieu. I shall see you next week when it will already be February. Really? Already? Crazy! Anyway, see you then.
Until next time, stay safe, wash your hands, and read some good books for me.