From the Back Cover:
Beatrice Knowles is a Maid of Honor, one of Queen Elizabeth I’s secret protectors. Known for her uncanny ability to manipulate men’s hearts, Beatrice has proven herself to be a valuable asset in the Queen’s court—or so she thinks. It has been three weeks since the Maids thwarted a plot to overthrow the Queen, and Beatrice is preparing to wed her betrothed, Lord Cavanaugh. However, her plans come to a crashing halt as rumors of a brewing Scottish rebellion spread among the court.
Beatrice’s new assignment is to infiltrate the visiting Scottish delegation using her subtle arts in persuasion. The mission seems simple enough, until the Queen pairs Beatrice with the worst of the lot—Alasdair MacLeod. Beatrice cannot help but think that the Queen is purposefully setting her up for failure. But Alasdair could be the key to unlocking the truth about the rebellion….and her own heart. Caught in a web of ever-more-twisting lies, Beatrice must rise up among the Maids of Honor and prove what she’s known all along: In a court filled with deception and danger, love may be the deadliest weapon of all.
I really want to love this series. It has such a great premise and such great characters: five special maids-of-honor who serve as spies in Queen Elizabeth I's court while navigating political intrigue and affairs of the heart. But both this book and the first in the series, Maid of Secrets, fell a bit short for me. I like them, but I don't love them, for reasons I'll explain in a bit. But first:
Beatrice is the ice queen of the group, the consummate courtier, the only one actually born and bred to the position, and she carries it out with grace, poise, and indifference. But in this book we get to see the woman that lies beneath the facade. A woman whose family problems have forced her to seek salvation in an arranged marriage, a woman whose hatred for the queen is eclipsed only by her desire to best her, and the only way to do that is by succeeding in every difficult task the queen sets for her. But this time, the queen has gone too far. This time, the queen has ruined Beatrice's shot at stability by calling a halt to her wedding and secretly assigning Beatrice to get close to the leader of the Scottish delegation at court, Alasdair Macleod, in an attempt to uncover a Catholic plot against the queen. Charming the uncouth warrior and learning his secrets should be easy, and finishing this annoying assignment will bring Beatrice one step closer to her ultimate goal, but Beatrice is about to discover that there's something far greater at risk here than any conspiracy--her heart--and her own actions may result in her losing the only true chance at happiness she's ever had.
While I love the characters and the overall story arc, my biggest issue with this book, as with the first, is that the story moves too slowly, and many pages are filled with political talk. It gets repetitive, and it can read rather dryly. I found myself saying, "A little less talk and a lot more action, please," on too many occasions. In particular, I kept reading for the handful of moments when Beatrice and Alasdair were alone together. They are perfect foils for each other. Her refined beauty and icy composure are no match for his rugged strength and passionate nature, and the oh-so-romantic ending bumped my rating up a notch.
Possibly the best thing about this series is that each girl presents a different view of Elizabeth I, who was such a larger-than-life figure that portraying her fictionally can be difficult. McGowan nicely sidesteps the pitfalls of classifying her too much one way or another by giving each maid her own preconceptions and experiences with the monarch, by giving them each their own lens to view her through, and so over the course of the series, the reader gets to know "Gloriana" from a multitude of angles, allowing for a far more complex and complete study of her. MacGowen excels at presenting the dual nature of Elizabeth's court, glittering and wondrous yet ugly and deceitful at the same time, and the descriptions of the time period--from presence chambers to secret passages, dances to feasts, and gowns to undergarments--are lush and meticulously researched. There's a nice setup in place for book three, which will center around another of the maids, Sophia, the ethereal niece of court astrologer John Dee, and I'm looking forward to the continuation of this series despite my quibbles.
My Rating: 3.5 Stars out of 5
*Please Note: This review references an advance copy received from the publisher through the Amazon Vine program. These are my honest and unbiased opinions, and I was not compensated in any other way for reviewing this book.