Friday, November 30, 2018

Book Review - Tasha Alexander's Uneasy Lies the Crown

Uneasy Lies the Crown by Tasha Alexander
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: October 30th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

The Queen is dead, long live Bertie? No matter how indomitable Emily thought the Queen or how hard the Queen fought against the inevitable by keeping her son out of politics, somehow Emily has to grasp the fact that Bertie is Bertie no more but Edward VII. But that is the least of Emily's worries at the moment and scandalizing her mother at the Queen's funeral is the one bright spot in her day. Colin was called away from the funeral luncheon to the Tower of London due to a murder and Emily, as is her wont, followed. A body had been found in the room where Henry VI was murdered. The dead man staged to look like the long dead king with a sword run through him and the costume to match. Colin thinks this is a threat to the new king and that the king's mother new it was coming. On her deathbed Queen Victoria gave Colin a letter with instructions, the last she would give him: Une sanz pluis. Sapere aude. "One and no more. Dare to know." He didn't even show Emily the note until after what they found in the Tower. Colin didn't want to betray the Queen's trust. But with the Queen dead and her son possibly in danger he knows he needs Emily's help.

There has also been another letter. And as much as Emily loves the idea of the Queen sending her husband mail from beyond the grave Colin assures Emily this isn't the case as neither note was written in the Queen's hand. The second note contained a map of the Tower of London and the drawing of a medieval lance. Was this note hinting at the murder? Is it a clue to another murder yet to come? When the body of a second victim turns up in Berkley Square murdered in the manner of Edward II, poker and all, it is clear that someone is sending a message, only Colin and Emily don't agree what that message is. Colin is convinced it is a clear and present danger to Bertie, while the more Emily digs into the lives of the victims themselves and not the way they were murdered she sees an entirely different picture. She thinks they are revenge killings. The first victim beat his wife, the second victim was a pimp who killed one of his girls who happened to have known the first victim's wife. All the couple know is that thanks to a local costume shop there are at least two more murders to come. Yet Colin's notes seem to have less and less to do with the murders and more to do with Henry V... could they be dealing with two disparate cases? And is Bertie even in danger?

There are as many different types of authors as there are book genres. There are the decent authors, you can enjoy their work but will probably never pick up another one of theirs. There are the bad authors, those whose books you want to fling across the room and are consumed by rage as you force yourself to finish. There are the really bad authors who make you so depressed you never want to read again and end up in the land of book melancholia. On the other end of the spectrum you have the good authors, the ones who you will always seek out their new book and make sure to read everything they have ever written. But then there is the rarest category of all, the great writers. Writers who you not only want to devour every word they have ever written but who inspire you. They make you want to read everything. They make you curious to know more. They make you have a voracious appetite that will never be satisfied to read and read. They open the world to you and you dive right in. I have always considered Tasha a good writer, but over her last few volumes, starting around The Adventuress and A Terrible Beauty I started to notice a shift. Tasha was bound for greatness and she has confirmed this with Uneasy Lies the Crown.

This volume just spoke to me on so many levels, but in particular I really connected to the glimpse of Colin's family history and how it connected to Henry V and Agincourt. I was so connected to Cecily Hargrave and her husband William that anyone that stood in their way I wanted to psychically harm. Especially the mean girl Cecily was staying with while her husband was off fighting in France. Right here, this shows Tasha's greatness. Not just in creating characters I love but in bringing history to life. My British history is pretty sketchy prior to the Wars of the Roses. It just happened that in undergrad the way they structured the British History classes meant that the first class was the Wars of the Roses up to the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and then the Glorious Revolution up to the present day, but my teacher was sick a lot so we only got to the Boer War. What I knew about medieval England was what I gleaned from Art History and my own personal studies. Therefore this little slice of medieval life had me wanting to read anything I could on Henry V. I wanted to pull down all my Philippa Gregory books and go on a binge. Then I wanted to watch all the miniseries I could, from adaptations of The White Queen to watching Edward the King with Timothy West. I wanted to take everything British and ingest it via osmosis. I haven't felt this invigorated as a reader in years.

But for how British I feel there is one thing I will NEVER get about England, and that is their obsession with controlling France. In fact when did they finally stop calling the British Monarch the King/Queen of England and France? I think I have some studying to do on that... Trying to see this ongoing conflict from the English point of view you can see, they're a tiny island, they want all the land they can get, how else do you think they became an empire? But from the logical point of view, France is a different country just leave them alone. Back to the British POV, yes, they did control many countries in their Empire... but I just don't get it. I guess my thinking is just too modern. A country should be it's own thing. They can have connections and allegiances, but they shouldn't be controlled or governed by any outside force. I believe in autonomy. This is oddly still very relevant as England and Spain have just started negotiations about Gibraltar. And here's my opinion on that, why they hell does England even still have Gibraltar? That's just crazy. Gibraltar should either be it's own entity or part of Spain. I don't get that there should be any confusion over this. But then England has been holding onto the Falkland Islands forever with an iron grip. And this folks is why I never play Risk. I don't want world domination.

Though we are here in the waning days of the British Empire and their world domination in that we are no longer in the Victorian Age, we are now in the Edwardian Era. An era that captured the heart of us Americans because of Upstairs, Downstairs, as well as other PBS shows from the aforementioned Edward the King to the spin off series featuring Francesca Annis as Lillie Langtry, Lillie, and even The Duchess of Duke Street. Americans, me included, became enamored with this era. But what I am most excited about currently is what this means for Emily. Queen Victoria, despite being a woman in power didn't believe in women having power. The most powerful hypocrite in the land, that's our Vicky! So while a man may be in charge of the country we are moving towards women's suffrage, we are moving towards more equality, we are moving towards Emily possibly being on more of an even footing with her husband as an agent of the crown in her own right. Possibly. What I love about Colin is while his work and society have never viewed his wife as his equal when it comes to his work, he has never taken that stance. He's always let Emily accompany him wherever his case might lead, from palaces to slums. But now with Bertie in charge? Those like this book's loathsome chauvinist Gale of Scotland Yard might have to eat their hat.

Yet for me, personally, such loyalty to a monarch is a little baffling. I think this has a lot to do with my disillusionment living in the United States at this moment in history. The whole "Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'" Yeah, that's not me. Yet it is Colin. The journey Colin takes through this narrative is fascinating. He was very devoted to Queen Victoria and has never had much of a favorable option of Bertie. But Bertie lived the life he was allowed to have so he will obviously be undergoing a seismic shift with the changing of the guard. Seeing him wonder if he even wants to stick around and continue as an agent of the crown is an interesting crisis of faith. Especially if Gale of Scotland Yard is in the mix. Comparing this crisis to his ancestor William who was a literal knight in shining armor on the battlefields of France is interesting. There's a connection down through the generations that doesn't just show the family's loyalty to the crown, but the chivalric instincts that make Colin such a good man and make him want to make his country, his world a better place. Colin is literally a modern day night. And you know what the thing is? We might all dream of a better world, a happily ever after with the person of our dreams, but the world, at this moment, needs men and women like Colin. Where's the armor when you need it?


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