All the Queen’s Players

Written by Jane Feather
Review by Nanette Donohue

Historical romance author Feather tries her hand at historical fiction with strong romantic elements in this Tudor-era novel featuring Rosamund Walsingham, cousin of Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster Francis Walsingham. Rosamund has grown up in the country with her brother Thomas, a man-about-town and the lover of playwright Christopher Marlowe. When Rosamund and Thomas are summoned to London by Walsingham, Rosamund becomes enchanted by the theatre, and realizes that she wants nothing more than to be a part of this world even though it’s not a proper place for a young lady of good breeding. But her cousin has different plans for her, and Rosamund finds herself inserted into the court of Queen Elizabeth as a junior lady of the bedchamber, where she is instructed to report back on the goings-on among the Queen’s closest confidantes. While at court, Rosamund gets to know Will Creighton, a handsome courtier with ties to the theatre. Their flirtation quickly becomes serious, changing her cousin’s plans dramatically.

Not surprisingly, the most successful parts of the novel are the romantic scenes between Rosamund and Will. They are fleeting and sensual, hinting at the possibility of a happy ending. It’s difficult to believe that this naïve, untested country girl is able to adapt to cutthroat court life and successfully spy on Mary, Queen of Scots with a little bit of tutoring from Walsingham’s well-meaning wife. A subplot involving a French chevalier who attempts to seduce Rosamund in order to get back at her brother falls flat, and Rosamund’s obsession with the theatre goes nowhere. While parts of this novel are very enjoyable, Feather is trying to do too many things at once. A narrower focus, perhaps on the romance between Rosamund and Will, would have been an improvement.