I admit it. I never got the hang of Mary Queen of Scots. Not only was she not the only Mary to be queening away, but I got confused over relations with Elizabeth, as well. And perhaps so did she, judging by Theresa Breslin’s Spy For the Queen of Scots.
Whenever I heard the names of Bothwell or John Knox or even Darnley, I knew I recognised them. Could not have said quite what they did or who they were (surely Mary married one of them?), but all that has changed. Theresa has made people of the names from the history books, and I trust they will now remain with me, and I will always know who they were.
Not very nice, if looked at from Mary’s point of view. Hard to say if you’d look at them differently if you were Elizabeth, or someone.
I’m still hazy about some of the geography, but could easily picture Mary and her good (if fictional) friend Jenny at Holyrood or Stirling Castle.
The book starts and ends with Mary’s execution, which is a wise decision, since not all readers would know it would end in tears. The story starts in France just before Mary married the Dauphin, eventually becoming Queen of France. There is a poisoner about, and Jenny tries to protect her Queen and best friend.
Sir Duncan Alexander keeps popping up, and Jenny falls in love with him, but she’s never sure whose side he is on. After Mary is widowed they escape to Scotland, where there are even worse wasps’ nests of intrigue than in France. People change allegiance and kill each other at the drop of a hat.
Mary marries again. More than once. Jenny casts longing glances at Sir Duncan, and he at her, but theirs is a slow and uncertain love affair.
I reckon Spy For the Queen of Scots would do very well as a history book in schools. Perhaps with maps and a few other things to back up all the facts, and it should leave most pupils with a good understanding of what happened in the really distant olden days.
It’s interesting how excited you can get reading about imprisonment and escapes and feuds and conspiracies, and the odd poisoning, when you actually know how it must end. And Mary seems quite likeable. I even got the hang of her son James of the two different numbers. I mean I knew already, but now I also understand.