I don't read nearly as much nonfiction as I should, but listening to The History Chicks podcast has convinced me to go outside of my comfort zone and pick up a historical work. I've always been fascinated with Queen Elizabeth, so I was eager to lean more about her lifetime. What makes Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens an interesting read is that it's not quite a dual biography. Instead, it's a biography of a relationship. It's true that the book does cover the childhood of both queens, but only from the perspective of how each childhood helped to form the women each girl would one day come. Instead of presenting events in a strict chronological order, the book examines Elizabeth at a certain age, and then jump over to what Mary was like at that same age. This method is very effective for showing how each Queen developed, and was one of my favorite parts of the book. The author, Jane Dunn, does a good job of presenting each Queen's personality without resorting to caricature. Mary is shown as passionate, charming, and impetuous, but the author also plays attention to her intellectual pursuits during her youth. Elizabeth is established as scholarly, and patient but the author draws attention to the affair between her and Robert Dudley, which was considerably scandalous.
As someone that reads more novels than biographies, I can at times find myself frustrated with the slower pacings of the nonfiction work. This is something I noticed with Elizabeth and Mary. I really enjoyed the parts that focused on Elizabeth, but I was a little shakier on the parts that focused on Mary, which could be painfully slow. This is a fault of me, the reader, more so than the author, as Jane Dunn's style is pretty approachable. One fault the book did have is it's tendency to repeat itself, constantly reintroducing characters and concepts. For example, the idea that because Elizabeth and Mary never actually met, they grew to more threatening heights in each other's minds, is a fascinating one, but not after the third of fourth time the author has rehashed it.
Even though I found Elizabeth and Mary to drag at times, it still was a very interesting read. I particularly liked the sequences that foucsed on each woman's childhood, and the trial that led to Mary's eventual execution. I would recommend picking up the audio verion of this book for anyone interested in reading it. The narrator, Donda Peters, has a lovely crisp accent that reminded me a lot of the actress Judi Dench. She did a good job of crafting accents for each of the players without feeling overly cartoonish.
Rating: three and a half stars
Length: 480 pages
Source: Readfield Community Library
Other books I've read by this author: this is my first
Next I will be reviewing The Shadow Cats by Rae Carson and Thirteen by Kelley Armstrong
xposted to temporaryworlds, bookish, and goodreads