Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Review: Murder in the Queen's Wardrobe by Kathy Lynn Emerson

Advance review copy from NetGalley, my opinions are my own.
Release date: March 1, 2015

Rosamond Jaffrey reluctantly takes a position as lady-in-waiting to the queen's cousin, who is being courted by Ivan the Terrible, in order to gather intelligence on the matter and help keep her estranged husband safe while he's in Russia. This is a spin-off from the author's previous historical mystery series, the Lady Appleton Mysteries, and there are some mentions of events from that series but it's still readable on it's own.

It had a good premise and was reasonable well written but there was too much about this that felt contrived and the character development wasn't great. It wasn't explained why Rosamond's husband would drop this studies and go to Russia. He didn't appear to be working for the Muscovy Company (a trading company) despite spending a lot of time at their headquarters. He didn't seem to be doing anything else there except trying to help an Englishwoman caught up in Ivan the Terrible's vengeance, which wasn't the reason he went to Russia, he just happened upon her while there and she begged for his help. He couldn't have decided to vacation there, since the book makes a point of how few English people were there, as it could be a dangerous place for them. So why was he there in the first place? Because there wouldn't have been a plot otherwise, clearly.

Had it not been for this, spying and mystery of the plot would have been enjoyable but I just kept thinking back to the fact that the only reason Rosamond was involved was because her husband was in Russia and he had no good reason for being there. I just couldn't get passed this.

Rosamond wasn't very likable, she came across as self-centered, spiteful, resentful, petty, self-important, and bitter at most everyone and everything. I think this was either a poor attempt at making her seem strong and independent, or perhaps the reason for it had something to do with the original series but if so, the author should have made it more clear. The idea of giving up her finery for the plainer clothes of an upper servant repulses Rosamond and she initially turns down the opportunity to actually do something worthwhile. For someone who wants so desperately to prove she's not a "brainless female", she doesn't exactly jump at the chance to make use of her knowledge and skills. And not because of the danger, but because it would mean making small, petty sacrifices in her lifestyle for a temporary period of time. She has an opportunity to potentially make a difference to political matters, something that would be unthinkable for most women of the times, even if it is in the background by providing intelligence, but she'd rather sit at home alone and attend plays. And then she gets offended when someone calls her frivolous? While she does eventually agree to participate, she gripes about it every step of the way. And she only agrees because she's told it will help keep her husband safe, which might seem selfless but the truth is, she's motivated mostly by guilt, not love. She only married him so she could kick him out and live independently. She used him and his love for her to get what she wanted and then she tossed him aside. Her only redeeming quality is that she acknowledges this and feels remorseful about it.

I understand that she is supposed to highly value her independence because it was so rare for women of the time but instead she just comes across as a selfish, spoiled little brat. I wanted to give this book a chance because maybe the character would grow and mature. Towards the end (about 3/4 into it), she does start to show signs that she is considering the fact that the attributes she prides herself on may not be seen so favorably by others. But it's too little, too late to totally save the book.

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