Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Review: THE TUDOR VENDETTA by C.W. Gortner

Time and again, Brendan Prescott has proven himself loyal to Elizabeth Tudor. As a trained intelligencer, he has uncovered lies, navigated treachery, and survived attempted assassination in his quest to protect England's new queen. But can Brendan's loyalty withstand the temptation to claim all Elizabeth has for himself? This is the challenge Brendan ultimately faces in THE TUDOR VENDETTA (St. Martin's Press, October 2014), the third and final volume of C.W. Gortner's Spymaster Chronicles.

Mere weeks after claiming her throne, Elizabeth recalls Brendan from exile in Switzerland, where he has fled for protection and further training. Her favored lady-in-waiting, Lady Parry, has vanished in Yorkshire while caring for a nephew's sick child. A scrap of paper tucked beneath the saddle of Parry's wandering horse bears an ominous message: She must pay for the sin. Fearing for her attendant's life, Elizabeth sends Brendan to search for her. Although reluctant to leave the queen, who has narrowly avoided being poisoned by a tainted coronation gift, Brendan travels north. At the home of Lord and Lady Vaughan, Catholic sympathizers of the late Queen Mary, the mystery deepens to involve an elusive stranger intent on settling a vendetta with the Protestant queen. As Brendan investigates the fate of Lady Parry, he discovers a shattering secret about Elizabeth--a secret this enemy hopes to exploit in order to bring a quick end to the new queen's reign. Can Brendan stop him in time? And even if he does, can the intelligencer resist using the dangerous knowledge he has gained to further his own ambition?

THE TUDOR VENDETTA, like its companion books THE TUDOR SECRET and THE TUDOR CONSPIRACY, is a deftly plotted mystery that seamlessly weaves plausible rumor and imaginative innuendo into an accurate and convincingly evoked historical framework. Gortner handles the difficult task of refreshing the reader's memory of the events of the previous two volumes with aplomb. He never allows the complicated politics and religious factionalism of the era to overwhelm the narrative action nor loose ends to weaken the story's grip. Wary lest the twists and revelations that structure the plot appear gratuitous or overly convenient, he takes care to prepare the ground with timely hints and supportive backstory.

But more than the tight plot, it is the finely nuanced characters that make THE TUDOR VENDETTA an enjoyable read. A foundling who shares Tudor blood, Brendan struggles to overcome feelings of inferiority even as he chooses to hide the truth of his birth. He retains an endearing vulnerability that prevents him from lashing out at past oppressors or taking advantage of improved circumstance. All he wants from life is a sense of belonging and a home to call his own, yet these are the very things he must sacrifice in Elizabeth's service. As a man who takes his responsibilities seriously, he has difficulty forgiving himself his failings, to the degree that he risks his future happiness by dwelling on past transgressions. Elizabeth is equally well-rounded, fragile yet determined, loyal yet willing to sacrifice whatever she must to maintain her grip on the throne. She allows herself one weakness, her love for the vain and power-hungry Robert Dudley; even so, she maintains a level-headed awareness of his shallowness and her own dangerous response to his attentions. Archie Shelton, Brendan's rough and tumble father, demonstrates a touching but never mawkish devotion to the son he was forced to ignore for so many years. Brendan's beloved Kate suffers no illusions about her relationship with the intelligencer and knows that his devotion to Elizabeth will forever complicate his love for her. Although she shares his devotion to the queen, Kate must decide whether she can live with Brendan's divided loyalty. (She is the one character I would have liked to have seen more of in this novel, but the plot necessarily removes her for much of the story.) Gortner's characters leap from the page in a blaze of convincingly contradictory emotions and impulses that keep the reader wholly invested in their struggles.

THE TUDOR VENDETTA brings The Spymaster Chronicles to an entertaining and satisfying conclusion, one that closes the present cycle yet leaves open the possibility for future tales of intrigue and aspiration at the Elizabethan court.

C.W. Gortner holds an MFA in Writing with an emphasis in Renaissance Studies from the New College of California. After a long career in the fashion industry, he now writes full-time and is the author of seven acclaimed historical novels. You can learn more about his work at his website and blog.


I wrote this review as part of a Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour. To read other reviews of the novel and guest posts by the author, please consult the list of tour stops. Return here tomorrow to read an interview with C.W. about THE TUDOR VENDETTA and his other work.

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