The books, opens with Elinor(Nell) de Lacey,imprisoned in the Tower of London, in 1565, wishing she could turn back time, wishing that she could go back to being just Nell, safe in her father’s estate in Lincolnshire, safe from London and the politics of the court.
Nell, grew up in Calverly, cherished by her father, who taught her everything he knew. His love of the sciences, astrology, philosophy, languages, everything that is reserved for boys. Strong minded and willful, Nell, would constantly try her mother’s patience, refusing the learn what her mother felt were necessary skills for a woman, learning to run a household. She was happier reading the books her father read. Her father and her nurse, from birth, Eppie, were the people she loved the most.
Her mother had been the chief lady in waiting to Henry VIII’s last wife, Katherine Parr, and had kept away from the courts ever since the death of Katherine Parr. She knew the reality of life in the courts, and wanted to keep her daughter away from all that.
When Nell was five, her father took her and her mother to London to get some more books, and instruments for star gazing. Nell, had accidently seen Elizabeth(then just Princess Elizabeth), captive in the Tower, and in childish, excitement, tried to save rescue her with a key she found. Five year old Nell believed that the key she found was magical, and would open Elizabeth’s prison. Princess Elizabeth is charmed by the child who wants to free her so much, and promises to never forget her.
Nell’s imagination is captured by the captive Princess, who is known to be as intelligent as she is beautiful. Ever since that experience, all she wanted was to go to the court and be a lady in waiting to Queen Elizabeth, much to her mother’s annoyance and worry. Finally, she manages to reach the courts, after her father’s death, having outsmarted her mother. It was only after she became a lady in waiting that she realized that her mother had been right all along.
She uncovers the truth of her birth, and the shocking realization that the truth could land her in prison. As she learns to speak the ways of the court, to pretend, to lie, to know when to bite her tongue, she finds herself an unlikely ally, someone everybody had warned her against, Sir Gabriel Wyatt. The explosive truth she knows brings danger to everybody she holds dear. Her beloved nurse, Eppie is tortured and killed, and she has no idea how she could escape from the prison she willingly came to, and no idea if there is anybody she could really trust.
A beautifully written story, fiction woven with known facts, historical fiction in the style of Philippa Gregory. Chase, has explored the possibility that Queen Elizabeth might have had a daughter before she became Queen. In the treacherous environment that the English Court was, such a truth would have given enough material to those who wanted Queen Elizabeth toppled from the crown. With that premise, the author weaves a fascinating story.
Apart from the historical aspect, the story is also about mothers and daughters. Of how Nell and her mother discover each other. Of how Nell, is touched when she learns that all her through her life, her mother lived through the fact that her daughter loved her father and her nurse more than her mother. I found that aspect very touching.
If you like Philippa Gregory’s books, you would enjoy this book. Full of suspense, mystery, romance and intrigue. It also speculates on how it must have been for Queen Elizabeth I, to be a woman leading a country, at a time when women were not considered at par with a man, despite having proven her intelligence and her capability in so many ways. It was a captivating book, and I was surprised to read that it is the first book by the author! I would definitely recommend it, if you like historical fiction.