Maid of Honor
Author: Paul Marshall
ISBN: 0-373-30507-9 (Harlequin Historical – Elizabethan)
Finished/Tossed: 4 Jun 2007
Who: Penelope Jermaine and Oliver Woodville
When: November 1558 – January 1559
From the back: As a maid of honor to the Queen, Penelope Jermaine must avoid the pitfalls of Court life — unwary speech and unguarded emotions could prove fatal. A young woman’s reputation must be above suspicion, so she has to tread carefully when Oliver Woodville promises more than mere friendship. Then a shadowy threat menaces Penelope and Oliver. . .
Comments: This is the first book in a four-part mini-series — The Elizabethan Season. As appropriate for the start of a series, it takes place during the months leading up to Elizabeth’s January 15, 1559 coronation, the “springtime” of her reign. The other three books will have a similar “season” theme. I enjoy the Elizabethan era as much as the Regency, so I was really looking forward to reading this series. However, I was disappointed in how the story was handled.
First, the things that worked for me:
Oliver and Penelope’s romance. Oliver was jilted by Penelope’s older sister, Mary. He didn’t foreswear woman or become some cynical rake; instead he turned his attention to serving Lord Robert Dudley, a distant kinsman.. Penelope has loved Oliver since the first time they’ve met, and is distressed that her sister could treat him so cruelly. Penelope, thanks to Mary’s intended, ends up as a maid of honor to the queen. This brings her and Oliver together and they renew their friendship. The romance blooms from a natural start as friends. It never feels forced or contrived.
William Cecil. With everything else the man had on his plate as the queen secretary of state, he’s saddled with solving a murder. He believes, rightly, that Oliver is innocent of the crime regardless of the only tangible evidence. However, the victim is a prominent Catholic. Cecil knows that failing to arrest Oliver will give the impression that “the new Queen’s government was happy to see Catholics murdered.”
What I didn’t like:
The plot/mystery. Oliver is suppose to have a secret enemy. However, there is never any mystery. Mary’s intended, the Earl of Castleford tells Oliver that he will kill him, and is responsible for the first two attempts on his life. Thanks to the author’s habit of point-of-view hopping, we know that Bevis Frampton is also out to get Oliver (Oliver doesn’t suspect him, so maybe that’s why it’s considered a “secret” enemy). His motivations for wanting to kill Oliver are vague. Then Bevis kills Castleford and implicates Oliver (Castleford fired Bevis after the first attempt on Oliver failed and Bevis hopes that Oliver will be hauled off to the axeman without delay). When that doesn’t work, he tries two more times: he hypnotizes Castleford’s valet, making him a sleeper agent – and when that fails, he tries poison. That, too, fails. Finally, he gives up trying and literally gets away with murder: no one knows he’s the one who killed Castleford. Someone that obsessed with killing a person wouldn’t just give up — like someone trying to hit a bulls eye — after four or five tries. Oh, and one more thing: Bevis worships Satan.
The characters. Oliver and Penelope were too perfect – it would have been better if they had succumbed to their desires the night Castleford was murdered. It would have made them seem more real and her confession as Oliver’s alibi would have had more of an impact. Mary and Castleford – both one-dimensional. Bevis – well, see above.
This negative reaction to the book will not prevent me from reading the rest of the series. Two of the books are written by another author.