Very Like a Queen

Written by Martin Lake
Review by Anne Clinard Barnhill

Very Like a Queen, Lake’s ninth novel, takes place at the court of Henry VIII and involves Alice Petherton, the king’s mistress, her protector, Thomas Cromwell, and a certain Frenchman named Nicholas Bourbon. Adept at court intrigue and able to hold her own with such nefarious characters as Richard Rich, Alice and her friends must try to survive the whims of their capricious monarch.

When Alice first sees Nicholas Bourbon at court, her heart is aflutter. As the king’s interest in her wanes (due to his fascination with the young Catherine Howard), Alice has a chance at true love. Bourbon returns her affections. Unfortunately, Cromwell, her adviser, notices their mutual attraction and reminds her she must be true to the king – to do otherwise is to court death.

So, Alice continues to answer the king’s summons and does her best to please him. His unhappy marriage to Anne of Cleves is on the rocks and he needs Alice more than ever. That is, until his eyes fall on the lovely Catherine Howard. Alice watches as Henry exchanges one wife for another, distraught that she cannot have her own love, Bourbon.

The descriptions of food and court life are sumptuous. However, telling the tale of a woman of easy virtue is a challenge if no plumbing of the depths of the character takes place. Alice, sadly, remains superficial, and thus this reader finds sympathizing with her circumstances difficult, especially when she goes to France and decides to sleep with the king there, too. The author fails to give sufficient motivation for these decisions, which, in turn, makes Alice seem flighty and willing to use whatever is necessary to stay at the top of the social heap.