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We Could Never Be Royals

New FYA contributor Maria launches her tribute to The Royal Diaries series with Elizabeth I: Red Rose of the House of Tudor

We Could Never Be Royals

BOOK REPORT for Elizabeth I: Red Rose of the House of Tudor by Kathryn Lasky

Cover Story: Portraitastic
BFF Charm: A Thousand Times Yes
Swoonworthy Scale: 3.5
Bonus Factors: Kindly Stepmother, May Day, Masquerades, Castles!
Relationship Status: Inspirational Role Model

Royal Diaries Drinking Game
I turned 21 while writing this, my first FYA review. In honor of all the completely legal champs cans in my future, I'm instituting a few simple drinking game rules for this series:

Take a sip when:
• There is talk of a betrothal
• The protagonist references the diary concept (i.e. apologizes for not writing often enough, has to find a hiding place for the diary, explains why she's writing in it to begin with, etc.)
• The protagonist wonders what it would be like to be a "normal girl"
• There’s a ball
• Somebody is poisoned or strangled or in some other way Ye Olde Murdered
• You wish you were a princess

Take two sips when:
• The protagonist becomes betrothed (for realsies)
• It's the protagonist's birthday (or culturally equivalent celebration)
• Obvious historical foreshadowing (from this book: "I love God, but I don't know if it really matters to me if other people love Him in the same way I do.")
• You're really glad you're NOT a princess

Take a shot when:
• The protagonist gets hitched
• Another Royal Diarist is mentioned (in this book: Mary, Queen of Scots and Cleopatra!)

Cover Story: Portraitastic

The girl on this cover doesn't really resemble the Princess Elizabeth of actual 16th-century images, but she does look like an actual twelve-year-old girl, which I like. I also like how this cover imitates the style of a Hans Holbein-era portrait. I do NOT like that my copy of this book doesn't have the gilt edging that most copies do. Way to make me feel like a peasant, book.

The Deal:

The twenty Royal Diaries books range across countries and centuries in setting, but they all share the same basic premise of being fictionalized diaries of pre/teen royal ladies. They also tend to share some thematic elements, such as: wacky court intrigue (SO much poison), crazy royal parents (often with their gender-assigned sidekicks, Psycho Mistress and Psycho Mystic), a general coming-of-age theme (aka puberty), and lots of insight into the difficulties of being female in a male-dominated society (aka Great News! You're Engaged to the Fifty-Year-Old King of France).

We kick things off with the future Queen Elizabeth I of England in 1544, long before she grew up to be Cate Blanchett. Elizabeth is eleven years old and third in line to the throne, so she's pretty sure THAT'S never gonna happen. Her dad, Henry VIII, is on his sixth wife; Elizabeth's mom was wife number two, accused of being a witch and beheaded on her father's orders. Elizabeth's older sister seems to hate her, and her brother is one of those "sickly" kids the doctors are always breaking out the leeches for. Over a period of three years, Elizabeth has to deal with all sorts of shizz, like being repeatedly exiled from court, England's external problems with France and internal problems with religion, the legacy of her father's rule and the specter of her mother's death, and her own precarious position at court and in the world. Also: poison. Seriously, SO much poison.

BFF Charm: A Thousand Times Yes

Returning to this book after not having picked it up in years, I was so psyched to get to hang out with Elizabeth again. I remembered her as a bold, fiercely independent girl with an adventurous spirit and a quick temper. That's not WRONG, exactly, but when I actually started the reread, I remembered what REALLY first drew me to Elizabeth. She begins the book in exile, feeling lonely and invisible and powerless. Elizabeth can't just be a "normal" girl, but it doesn't seem likely that she'll get to rule, either. She lives in constant fear of being married off or permanently rejected by her father. My heart went out to her on this reread, especially for how much she craves and cherishes any signs of affection from her dad. But despite all her difficulties, Elizabeth is incredibly brave and loyal and always willing to take a stand for the people she loves. She also proves to be extremely clever at navigating court politics, earning herself tons of fist pumps and "You go girl!" moments. Not being royal myself, I'm probably not qualified to be Elizabeth's friend, but I would happily sign up to be her most devoted lady-in-waiting.

Swoonworthy Scale: 3.5

This is a tough one, because, uh, Virgin Queen. In the book, Elizabeth decides early on that she never wants to get married (especially understandable considering the stellar example set by her dear old dad). But Robin Dudley, Elizabeth's closest friend, is just THE BEST. They're partners-in-crime! They go on ghost-comforting missions! They swear a blood oath!* I don't care if the history books say otherwise, in my mind they TOTALLY hooked up.

*Okay, I can now see that the blood oath thing is more "eww" than "ooh," but as a kid I was All About the blood oath. I would gladly have made one myself if I'd ever found a willing accomplice and if I wasn't WAY too much of a wuss to ever draw my own blood.

Talky-Talk: Dear Diary

The Royal Diaries books aren't ghost-written, but they also don't put the author's name right on the cover. Which is nice if you're an eleven-year-old girl deluding yourself into believing the book you're reading really is the remarkably readable and well-preserved diary of a young Elizabeth I, as I was. Though this series can sometimes require suspension of disbelief about the whole diary concept (especially for the books that begin earlier in the girls' lives, like nine-years-old early), I never had to do that with Elizabeth. The ACTUAL author, Kathryn Lasky, manages to make Elizabeth sound believably like a well-educated young girl in the 1500s without going overboard with the "verily" and "forsooth." (The best use of old timey speak is when Elizabeth loses her temper and swears "a round and bloody oath." Round and bloody profanity is defs the best kind.) The book strikes a good balance between Elizabeth's internal musings and plot. It's also great with the subtle humor:

If the sun does not revolve around the earth, if the earth is not the center, that means England is not the center of the earth, and if England is not the center, it means my father, King Henry VIII, is not the center of this universe, and this I do believe could upset him.

Bonus Factor: Kindly Stepmother

Catherine Parr, Henry VIII's sixth (and final!) wife, is an incredibly kind and attentive stepmother to Elizabeth and her brother Edward. Elizabeth adores her, which is so nice—rather than resenting any of Henry's successive wives for taking her mother's place, she's loved each of them in their own way. (Unlike her sister Mary, who's still really bitter about what happened to HER mother—but then, girl’s had it rough.)

In general, this book is fantastic about character complexity especially in regards to family relationships. It would be easy to make Henry or Mary completely awful, or to portray Anne Boleyn as a saintly memory of perfect virtue. But instead, Lasky acknowledges the good and the bad for every character, and shows how Elizabeth can still love her father or miss her mother even knowing that they may have done some terrible things.

Bonus Factor: May Day

This book introduced me to May Day, which I have proudly celebrated ever since despite numerous people's protests of "What the hell is May Day" and "That's not a real holiday." But it is!! It involves flowers and maypoles and dancing and cake*, and it is absolutely the best day of the year.

*That is, if you make it involve cake. Which I do.

Bonus Factor: Masquerades

This book has about as many elaborate costume parties as your average episode of Gossip Girl, which is to say, a lot. Over the course of the book, Elizabeth gets to be a swan, Robin Hood, AND a water nymph. (But watch out, because for certain members of the Tudor court, masquerades are really just great opportunities to break out the poison. I guess they're slightly more like Game of Thrones weddings in that way.)

Bonus Factor: Castles!

 

The royal court moves around SO MUCH. Henry VIII owns over THIRTY CASTLES, and Elizabeth visits at least ten of them.

Casting Call:

Sophie Turner as Elizabeth

Relationship Status: Inspirational Role Model

Book, you were a huge influence on me growing up. My first-ever historical obsession was with the Tudors, thanks to you and other historical fiction books I sought out based on your example. It's your fault I wrote a bunch of terrible diary-format stories in middle school, and it's your fault that I still get laughed at every year for my attempts to make May Day happen. I don't know where I'd be in life if it weren't for you, book, and I will always think of our time together as a true Golden Age.

FTC Full Disclosure: I purchased this book with my allowance. Elizabeth I: Red Rose of the House of Tudor has been available for years, y'all. So get on that.

Maria Greer's photo About the Author: Maria is originally from Montana but goes to school in the Bay Area, where she totally fails to take advantage of the tech industry. Instead, she is majoring in history and creative writing, with which she plans to do...something. Currently her hope is that someone will come along and offer to pay her to read YA novels and eat cupcakes. Until that day, Maria spends most of her time studying and petitioning the university to let her keep a cat in her dorm.