Mary and Elizabeth

Written by Emily Purdy
Review by Melanie Clegg

When Henry VIII finally does the country a favour and burbles his way to a premature death, surrounded by the great and good of his court, he leaves behind a trio of wan faced children, the fruit, whether he liked it or not, of his first three marriages. The story of what happened next is a familiar one as Mary and Elizabeth spent their brother’s short-lived reign, and beyond, locking horns over religion and the fate of the country.

Interestingly, Emily Purdy decided to write her novel from the alternate point of view of both sisters, which mostly works pretty well and lends itself to a fast-paced and entertaining read. However, I found some of the historical licence baffling and also had my attention span challenged by superfluous details and what may well be one of the longest sentences ever. I also found this book curiously old-fashioned in its construction and the rather outmoded way it depicted the central characters, such as Catherine Parr, Tom Seymour and Lady Jane Grey – it read a bit like Jean Plaidy except with additional (very) dirty bits.

Thanks to a certain glitzy television series, there’s been an upsurge in novels about the Tudor dynasty lately, with mixed results. Emily Purdy’s book is clearly catering to fans of The Tudors (in fact, the back cover proclaims that this is a ‘rip roaring story of love, power and rivalry that will delight fans of BBC Drama The Tudors’) as there are plenty of lurid and occasionally wince-inducing sex scenes and endless descriptions of dresses, jewels and sumptuous dinners in between all the dramatics, plots and scheming.