It’s been awhile since I’ve really felt invested in historical fiction as a genre. The last two were probably Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. It was with pleasure and intense enjoyment that I read Jesse Blackadder’s tale of one heroic girl tangled in the spiderweb of the Scottish court. I have to say that this was an unusual tale, and some of what I will share in my review was novel to me. I grew to be very invested in Alison’s story and the magic with which Blackadder told it.
First off, I must mention that this is the first time I have ever read a historical fiction book where the lead character was a bisexual woman. Alison, forced to grow up as a boy, grew also with the lusts of a boy. It was clear to me that she was totally besotted with the queen, and though others came into and out of her heart and bed, the queen was her enchantress again and again. Theirs was a chaste love, but it was powerful nevertheless. When Alison firsts realizes that she can never attain and possess the queen as she wishes she could, she takes another lover of the same sex, and the two embark on a tragically short lived but passionate affair. Later, Alison takes a male lover and revels in the similarities as well as the vast differences. I liked seeing that the author bent the lines when it came to the sexuality of her main character. It was different, and gave the tale a more vivid and replete feeling.
I was touched deeply by the winding wrenches of Alison’s heart. Her dilemmas were excruciating and exacting, but never did she waver in her loyalty to her kin or to her queen. This left her very open to manipulation, though she herself could never see it, or believe it. Most of the people that Alison interacted with were merciless in exploiting the boy in her, and the girl in her, never stopping to see that beyond all this, she was a person with deep feelings and a very passionate nature, be it in her hate or in her love. The agonizing tale of Mary Queen of Scots was told through Alison's love-clouded eyes, and while the queen was tormented, Alison was haunted.
The last bit of this tale that I found extraordinary was Alison’s loyalty to her father: a man who had forsaken her and repeatedly tried to hurt and disengage from her. He was on the wrong side of a losing battle, yet he too, was loyal where most men wouldn’t be. His desire to once again be the owner of Blackadder castle caused a lot of tension and reprehensible feelings to be passed from one family member to another. In my heart, I believe that all Alison wanted was her father’s love, but his blood-clouded eyes could see no further than the stone that made the castle walls. In the end, his misbegotten affections were no balm for our heroine, as she had paid so dearly to hear them aloud.
I loved this book for its bravery in placing a bisexaul character into a historical setting and for its free flowing lucidity in what was a bizarre situation. Those who aren’t familiar with the story of Mary Queen of Scots will revel in this tale for its brashness and uniqueness, and those who have heard of the fate of the queen before will see it anew from the vantage point of a character who will wring every drop of compassion from their hearts. Highly recommended.
This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.