The Red Queen’s Daughter
by Jacqueline Kosolov

The fictional life of the daughter of the last wife of Henry VIII is an interesting, but badly handled idea.

Kosolov takes on a real subject, Katherine Parr’s daughter by Thomas Seymour, Mary, whose mother died at birth and father died as a traitor shortly thereafter. The real Mary died as a toddler. We are introduced to this orphaned child at nine when her guardianship changes from a Duchess to a mysterious Lady Strange. Brought up thus far to be a lady and a fabulous embroiderer, now her life takes an unusual turn as she’s going to now prepare to be a white magician in the court of a virgin queen. At sixteen she joins Elizabeth’s court and is plunged into it’s intrigues.

I had high hopes for this book and while it was a quick read and one I did read start to finish yesterday evening–I was left hoping for a lot more. Kosolov creates an interesting world but doesn’t flesh it out particularly well. She makes a leap of six years without much warning to the reader and after that jump things were extremely choppy. Mary takes her place at court and jumps in and out of intrigue uncleanly. Her first cousin Edmund, also a rising power at court (and a totally fictional character), is her love interest but is evil. He hurts her friend but he’s so appealing. Mary is a magician but only does the most random of spells and she’s there to help Elizabeth, but doesn’t seem to do so. Mary can’t be known to be a magician but strong powerful men of the court are pouring out secrets to her. I have some doubts about the veracity of powerful men of Elizabeth’s court confiding in a sixteen year old lady in waiting.

Mary relies heavily on a benevolent spirit that lives in a white dog and is her constant companion. Because of this, Mary never seems to really make her own judgments but instead has a voice of wisdom telling her what to say and when. Overall I was struck how passive character Mary is–rarely acting on her own or getting herself out of scrapes. There is almost hope for her at the end, when in the course of a week she endeavors to seduce her cousin, but even then it was so rushed and confused that it just seemed ridiculous. Rare is the man who completely falls for a woman in a week and will give up all of his evil plans at self-promotion within the rising powerful court of Elizabeth I.

The book is murky. I would have liked to see either a longer book or a more direct one. It was an interesting concept but Mary wasn’t an active enough character for me. I would have liked to see her come into her own more, or to show influence with Elizabeth. Kosolov adds in weird aura and gemstone references and unclear snippets of magic sprinkled all over the place to make for a confusing blend.

Ultimately an unsatisfying read: muddled magic, a romantic relationship that seems poorly thought out, an ending that totally took a left turn that seems really un-thought-out and a heroine who remains unredeemed.