Spy for the Queen of Scots by Theresa Breslin | Review

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The first genre that I ever really got into is historical fiction and that is a genre that I continue to go back to, even now. I’ve actually already read this book but, as I was suffering from severe Reign withdrawal, I decided to dive back into the world of Mary, Queen of Scots but with some different characters and something that was slightly more historically accurate. It was actually very interesting to read this book after watching Reign because now I can see all the links and connections between the two adaptations of Mary’s life. I also liked re-reading this book because now that I’m older I picked up a lot more of the smaller details, and also a lot more of the sexual innuendos that my 13 year old self definitely glossed over. I really loved the characters in this book because they were all complex and interesting and I’ve really come to see just what an amazing person Mary Stuart was. The writing style can sometimes get a little too descriptive for my liking but overall, it’s very engaging and informative. I’m really pleased that I decided to re-read this one and it was the perfect thing to stop me mourning over Reign.

As lady-in-waiting to Mary, Queen of Scots, the beautiful Ginette—known as Jenny—is the young queen’s closest childhood friend. Growing up in the elegant but ruthless French court, surrounded by enemies and traitors—not least the jealous, manipulative Catherine de Medici, and Mary’s own scheming half-brother, James—Jenny has always been fiercely loyal to her mistress. But when she overhears a mysterious whispered plot, closely followed by several unexplained deaths at court, she puts her own life in danger and turns spy for Mary. Jenny quickly realises not a soul at court can be trusted, and when she and Mary return to their Scottish homeland for Mary to claim her throne, they face even greater peril. Desperate to protect her friend from those who would slit her throat to steal her crown, while battling her feelings for the charismatic nobleman Duncan Alexander, Jenny becomes embroiled in a dangerous web of secrets, betrayals and lies.

In some books, I can get very annoyed when authors say they are writing historical fiction but have blatantly added a character that never existed and never would have existed. And while there is no documentation of Mary ever having a lady in waiting called Ginette, there’s every possibility that she might have done. Jenny is a really engaging character to read about and she’s incredibly loyal and supportive and isn’t afraid to stand up for herself or put her foot down – which for a woman in those days would have taken a lot of bravery. I also really liked the character of Duncan Alexander because he’s interesting and complex but brave and stubborn and trustworthy and I particularly like his relationship with Jenny. I had forgotten how funny this book was and it’s mainly Jenny and Duncan’s exchanges and their banter that adds to the humour. I also liked that the book had a good mix between fictional characters and real people because this cemented the fact that this book is historical fiction, but there is also room for imagination.

This book spans over quite a large time period, from when Jenny is 15 to well past Mary’s death date, and while I don’t think this added anything in particular to the story it allowed us to follow Mary throughout the most emotional and troubling times in her life, meaning that overall the plot was much more fast-paced and action-packed. There’s not one villain in this book – there are multiple characters with shady agendas and questionable intentions as well as characters who are just horrible human beings but the majority of those characters are justified – or at least, they think they’re justified – in their actions. That’s another thing I liked: everyone did what they thought was the best way forward and what applied to their specific beliefs. It’s just that some of those beliefs happened to be to overthrow the Queen of Scotland.

I’m really glad I re-read this book, not just because I got to live in the world of Mary Stuart for a little longer, but because it’s a very accurate piece of historical fiction. I’d give it a 4 out of 5 stars and I know now that I really should check out more of Breslin’s works.

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