The Queen’s Promise
Vantrease’s long-awaited return to the historical fiction scene showcases her painstaking attention to characterization and period atmosphere. Opening with a prologue depicting the execution of Charles I’s advisor Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, in 1641, the novel follows a wide array of individuals as tensions between the king and Parliament erupt into civil war. In 1642, Queen Henrietta Maria, detested by England’s people for her extravagances and fervent Catholicism, travels abroad to deliver the 10-year-old Princess Mary to her future husband and convince the Dutch to buy England’s crown jewels. She has promised to help finance her husband’s battles and return to her younger children, but her words may be as empty as those of her husband, who had vowed to save his friend Strafford. Meanwhile, young Prince Henry and Princess Elizabeth are quietly taken into the care of Lucy Hay, Countess of Carlisle—Strafford’s former lover, Henrietta’s sometime friend, and current lover of Parliamentary leader John Pym.
Lucy, a courtier who was one of the era’s most intriguing personalities, tended to serve both sides simultaneously when it suited her purposes. In Vantrease’s portrayal, this doesn’t demonstrate fickleness on her part but a unique blend of survival instinct and human compassion. Although Henrietta and Lucy are the ostensible protagonists, the narrative splits into many different strands that take a long time to form into a cohesive story. The chapters with Caroline Pendleton, wife of a wool merchant turned knight, succeed in evoking the desperate plight of women left alone during wartime. Others focus on James Whittier, a nobleman, printer, and one-time highwayman whose path crosses Caroline’s. While their stories are interesting when taken individually, the overlarge cast makes the novel lose focus. And so the Broken Kingdom series has a fairly slow start; hopefully Part Two will draw all the stories together more tightly.