Genre: YA historical
The recently widowed Lady Jane, Marchioness of Rievaulx is Queen Elizabeth's new lady-in-waiting. While she had nothing but a daughterly love for her elderly husband, Jane's three step-sons loathe her and can't wait to play on the fact that her marriage was never consummated. On her late husband's advice, Jane escapes to London to take up her new role which carries with it the protection of the Queen.
What Jane isn't banking on is that James Lacey is back in London. She's loved him for years, even when she was engaged to his older brother Will, the Earl of Dorset. Jane hasn't had any contact with James for six months, but her feelings remain unchanged. James - not so much. He's recently returned from Europe with his manservant Diego, where he was a spy for the English. He's still traumatised by what he witnessed and overcome with guilt that he couldn't do anything to prevent the terrors committed against women and children. With true brotherly loyalty, he's somewhat bitter towards Jane for her broken engagement with his elder brother. What he doesn't know is that Jane knew that Will was in love with her childhood friend Ellie and broke her engagement with Will so that he and Ellie could be happy. A right martyr.
A secondary romance takes place between Jane's childhood friend Milly Porter and James' manservant Diego. After Milly's father was exiled for treason, Milly was forced to fend for herself and has set herself up in London as a seamstress. With the help of Jane's patronage, future custom will be guaranteed and her prospects are looking up. Diego used to work for Milly's family before her father was exiled; since then, he's been working for the Laceys and accompanied James across Europe during the war. He's loved Milly for years and couldn't care less that he's black and that a potential relationship would be the subject of scandal.
In addition to Diego's declaration of love for her, Milly is also pursued by neighbour Christopher Turner - or Kit, as he prefers. Kit is an actor and delights in exaggerating and over-embellishing everything. In his spare time, Kit writes sonnets that he sells to men with more money than sense; he can often be found practicing them on Milly first. No one (except Milly, maybe; can't remember) knows that Kit is the bastard son of the late Earl of Dorset. He despises the Laceys and wants nothing to do with them. Kit is infatuated with Milly and knows that a relationship with Diego will only end up damaging Milly’s reputation as a seamstress.
Once they get over their initial animosity, Jane and James cannot deny their attraction to one another. Despite her place in the Royal household, Jane's stepsons are forever on her back and demanding that she give up the items that were bequeathed to her in their father's will. James is determined to protect her, but he is being sent across the Atlantic to discover the Americas and can’t do anything while he’s away. Jane's father wishes for her to marry again and finds a Frenchman who is more than happy to allow Jane free rein in her life (and sexual partners) so long as she marries him, so long as she grants him the same. Jane’s father desperately needs the money that Clement Montfleury has offered for Jane’s hand in marriage, and he will see their union, whatever the cost …
I've wanted to read The Other Countess for absolutely ages but could never find it at the library. I dislike reading books in series out-of-order, but on seeing it available on NetGalley, there was no way that I was going to pass it up. It would have been lovely if I had read The Other Countess first, but I was able to stumble along just fine without it.
I love historical romances. There's just something about period settings and the completely different way of life without modern conveniences and pressures that I love. Fiction is all about transporting yourself to another place for a few hours and historicals manage this perfectly because you’re literally being taken to another time. I only took History at A-Level but I love finding out the details and nitty-gritty of normal life back whenever a book was set. I don’t read many YA historical romances and I’ve never read anything set in Elizabethan times, so this was a new one for me, especially since Jane has such close proximity to the Queen; romance has its fair share of Dukes and Earls and Viscounts and Marquesses etc, but you only every get to see the monarchs and their heirs fleetingly. Elizabeth I could have had a larger role, but I guess it was best to keep her involvement in the story as minimal as possible.
Jane and James’ romance is really sweet. He is determined to hate her and feels terribly guilty when this is overridden by attraction. It’s the late-sixteenth century and the slightest misstep could put Jane in a very unfavourable position with the Queen. Being a YA novel, there’s not really much focus on sex and the physical part of their relationship as opposed to the emotional and it feels very right for this book. Both hero and heroine are only eighteen years old and they very much feel their age. Despite Jane having already married and buried one husband and James having suffered through the horrors of war, they’re both still innocents and Ms Edwards puts this across very well. I can somewhat relate to their thoughts and actions and this is something that I miss about YA.
I liked the Diego-Milly-Kit triangle. Kit is awesome and some of his lines were pretty funny. I respect Milly for carving a life out for herself when she was forced to do so, and the business that she has built up on her own is a testament to what women can achieve on their own - probably a tad unrealistic for that time period, but humbling all the same.
There were some instances where I was absolutely certain that it would be Milly and Kit that would end up together, rather than Milly and Diego. For some reason, I had imagined that book three, The Rogue’s Princess was about Milly and Kit and so I was thoroughly confused: wasn’t it counter-productive to have such a genuine romance going on between Milly and Diego when they wouldn’t be together?, I thought. A proper reading of the synopsis for The Rogue’s Princess properly dispelled these fanciful notions and I was properly able to enjoy Milly and Diego’s romance without worrying that it would be destroyed later on.
I’m looking forward to The Rogue’s Princess. The Queen’s Lady was an enjoyable read and my first YA historical for a long time. It’s not something that I would have paid for – which is disappointing since I thought I would like it more – nor something that I would read again from start to finish, but I liked it while it lasted and I’ll definitely come back for more of the Laceys if given the chance.
Image courtesy of Amazon.