Last year I read the first in the Lacey series, The Other Countess and absolutely loved it so it became on my favourites of the year so I was really excited that there was going to be a sequel. The Queen's Lady definitely had a lot to live up to! I am glad to say that Eve Edwards descriptive writing transported me back into the Elizabethan world that entranced me in the Other Countess.
This Lacey romance, switches from the story of the alchemist's daughter Ellie to her friend, Lady Jane Perceval who gave up a bright and safe future to ensure her friend's happiness in a huge test of loyalty. I originally found her hard to like in the first book but I liked the way her character developed and became more interested in her by the end so I'm happy that her story gets a book of its own. Eighteen months on from where we left Jane in The Other Countess, we meet Jane again as a recently widowed Marchioness, who is grieving for her kind elderly husband. He offered her refuge from her manipulating family as well as a caring and fatherly friendship though their marriage was in name only. She is at the mercy of her cruel father and her deceitful step-sons who will stop at nothing to get back what they believe is rightfully theirs but thanks to her late husband's thoughtful arrangements, she is able to serve the Queen as a lady in waiting at court. When Master James Lacey arrives at court, Jane is overjoyed and her old strong feelings for him come flooding back because despite her courtship with his elder brother, James is the man her heart truly lies with. The problem is, James hates her at first because he doesn't know the real reason why she broke her betrothal . Despite him learning the truth and having a fascination with her, James embarks on a voyage to the Americas to try and rid himself of the terrible memories of war that haunt him, feeling that he does not deserve beautiful Jane. However, whilst away Jane is forced into a dreadful situation as her family try to use her as a pawn to advance their fortunes.
I liked Jane much more in this book because she seemed to have matured a great deal and copes with the strains and stresses she is put under as well as the social expectations everyone around seems to have very well. It is very hard to begin to image what it would be like to have such heavy burdens resting on such young shoulders. To the court, she seems like a stiff and cold person but underneath the mask she puts on to hide her emotions there, she is bubbly, warm and loving as well as a loyal friend when she is with her lifelong playmate and friend, Milly. I really liked the scenes at Milly's needle women's workshop, which Jane helped to set up because the real Jane is revealed and the fun side of her is bought out into the open.
The romance between Jane and James was strong (even though I personally love the love interest Will in The Other Countess more!) and I was rooting for them all the way because they bought out the best in each of their personalities, helped each other through rough patches and seemed to be meant for each other. I thought the fact that they both had flaws made their relationship even stronger. It was so frustrating for James to feel he was unworthy of her and sail to the other side of the world, leaving his lady in her time of need though. I liked the side love story of her friend Milly too, which was ridden with problems because of rife feelings of prejudice and racism in London.
The main character of the next book in the series called Kit, who is the illegitimate brother of Will and James Lacey is also introduced and whilst I didn't really warm to him, his character was intriguing. I'm especially looking forward to see how his relationship develops with his half brothers and if he can get over thinking they will treat him the same way as his/their father.
Once again, Eve Edwards creates a wonderfully detailed and authentic Elizabethan setting enriched by all the sights, sounds and smells of the time. In her 'about section' she says that she attended jousts and ate Elizabethan banquets as part of her research for the book and this really shows as the way she describes things so vividly really brings them to life. What really strikes me is how she makes the characters so accessible and rateable to modern readers and shows that human nature and emotion hasn't changed over time.
Verdict: Whilst I did love this book and wasn't too disappointed, I have to be honest and say that I didn't enjoy it *quite* as much as The Other Countess, but it was very close. Perhaps the reason for this is the characters aren't quite so 'sweet' and it has a darker side. This series is now one of my favourites and I'm really looking forward to the next installment, The Rouge's Princess, which is published in a few months. I'd recommend it to those who loved The Other Countess, historical fiction and romance fans or just those who are looking for wonderful story.
Rating: 4.5 stars
Read for the 2011 YA historical fiction challenge.