Like Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir, Sandra Byrd has attracted countless fans for evoking the complexity, grandeur, and brutality of the Tudor period. In her latest tour de force, she poses the question: What happens when serving a queen may cost you your marriage—or your life?
In 1565, seventeen-year-old Elin von Snakenborg leaves Sweden on a treacherous journey to England. Her fiancé has fallen in love with her sister and her dowry money has been gambled away, but ahead of her lies an adventure that will take her to the dizzying heights of Tudor power. Transformed through marriage into Helena, the Marchioness of Northampton, she becomes the highest-ranking woman in Elizabeth’s circle. But in a court that is surrounded by Catholic enemies who plot the queen’s downfall, Helena is forced to choose between her unyielding monarch and the husband she’s not sure she can trust—a choice that will provoke catastrophic consequences.
Vividly conjuring the years leading up to the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots, Roses Have Thorns is a brilliant exploration of treason, both to the realm and to the heart.
I absolutely adore historical fiction, and Tudor court novels are by far my favourites. I’ve read so many by now that I could easily write my very own detailed book about the Tudor monarchs. So why do I keep reading them then? A very good question, and I think it’s mostly to do with the fact that I love history, and also I just love the descriptions of life at court which is just so complex and other-worldly when you look at it from our modern perspective. And even though I’ve read so much about Elizabeth I, it was really nice to read her life story from another person’s perspective. I think it’s odd that I had never heard of Elin (later called Helena) von Snakenborg, even though she was one of the women who was closest to the Queen for the majority of her adult life. Elin travels from the Swedish court to England at a young age and, at the prospect of marriage and becoming a true Englishwoman, she decides to stay at the English court rather than return to Sweden. The book follows her life through the years as she marries, becomes a widow, remarries below her status, has children and so on. Her life at court in service of Queen Elizabeth is a very prominent factor all through the book.
What I really liked about reading this story from Elin’s perspective is that at times you could see the more human side of Elizabeth, as a woman rather than a Queen. These moments never lasted long, but it made her personality all the more likeable and ‘real’, rather than the fantastic and almost mythical ways in which she is usually described in the history books. I really liked Elin as a character as well. She’s very kind and caring, and she must’ve been such a good friend and confidante to Elizabeth, which is why I don’t understand why she isn’t better known. There is almost no mention of her in most historical novels that I’ve read, and if she was mentioned it was probably so fleetingly that I can’t even remember it.
The first 2/3 of the book were absolutely amazing and I read most of that in the same day because I just couldn’t put it down. After that the story seemed to stall a bit and, in my opinion, it lingered a bit too long on the question of Mary Queen of Scots. But luckily the story picked up again after that and I was actually disappointed when the book was finished.
I really enjoyed this book from start to finish, and it was refreshing not only to read a familiar story from someone else’s perspective, but also from another author who was unknown to me before.