Biofic about Elizabeth of Bohemia and her thwarted ambitions.
Canadian novelist Elias has painstakingly researched this portrait of a Stuart royal whose obscurity is undeserved. At 16, Elizabeth, daughter of James I of England, is wedded to Frederick, Count Palatine of the Rhine. James sees Frederick’s candidacy for the throne of Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic) as a way to make Protestant inroads in a Europe dominated by the Catholic Hapsburgs. Part 1 takes place during the couple’s engagement period, through which we get a vivid glimpse of the dysfunctionality of James’ court. James and the queen spend lavishly, he on building projects, she on elaborate masques staged by Ben Jonson and other courtiers of dubious talent. Elizabeth’s beloved brother, Henry, the Prince of Wales, is a patron of the arts with better taste: He funds Shakespeare’s productions. As the future king, Henry might have restored order, fiscal and otherwise—but he dies tragically and somewhat suspiciously. Elizabeth nurses a secret crush on Sir Walter Raleigh, an older man whom her father has clapped in the Tower. Elias’ use of language to re-create the period is striking. In both cadence and vocabulary, Shakespearian parlance is not so much mimicked as suggested: for example, “There’s something to be said for vulgarity if it should serve to subvert pretense.” But long stretches of dialogue, however sparkling, drag out exposition to frustrating lengths. As the scene shifts to Frederick’s ancestral castle in Heidelberg, readers will miss the intrigue and backbiting at James’ court. Elizabeth is more or less content with her loveless but courteous marriage, and she begins to produce children at an alarming rate. (She is the first to be alarmed.) Elizabeth's political machinations on Frederick’s behalf backfire catastrophically. Far from viewing herself as a pawn, she takes responsibility for strategic missteps, mainly allowing the destruction of Catholic artifacts after Frederick is crowned King of Bohemia and underestimating the hostility of the Holy Roman Empire to the Protestant interlopers.
A highly readable telling of a royal fall from grace.