Justine Thornleigh is a young girl with a terrible secret. A decade ago, her father Sir Christopher Grenville was involved in a plot to overthrow Elizabeth I. Hiding out in a barn that was burning down, Grenville escapes and abandons his daughter, forcing her to tell everyone that he died in the fire rather than having him captured and executed for treason. Grenville’s nemesis, Sir Richard Thornleigh, takes Justine in and raises her as her own. There, Justine meets and falls in love with Sir Richard’s nephew, Will Croft. Unbeknownst to Will, Justine is the daughter of the man who killed his father. Does Justine risk telling Will the truth or can she keep it hidden from him? Unfortunately for Justine, Will’s mother Joan knows exactly who she really is.
Meanwhile, Mary, Queen of Scots has fled her country to seek refuge in England, and Justine, as a ward of Elizabeth’s loyal advisor, is asked to act as a spy in her household. As Justine gets to know Mary, she begins to sympathize with the woman’s plight. But where do her true loyalties lie? As a Grenville, she should support the “true faith” and Mary’s claim to the English throne? But as Thornleigh’s ward, it is clear that her duty lies with Elizabeth. Justine knows that the inquiry Elizabeth holds to establish Mary’s guilt or innocence is unfair but what part should she play? When Justine’s father, now an agent of Mary’s, reappears, Justine must choose sides. She walks a tight rope down the middle, doing her best to reach a compromise with both sides, to ensure peace and reconciliation between the feuding Grenvilles and Thornleighs, but powerful forces are in play and Justine becomes trapped in a no-win situation.
Kyle’s fictional families, the Grenvilles and the Thornleighs, fit effortlessly into the Elizabethan court. This is the fifth book in the Thornleigh series, which details the families’ lives from the time of Mary I forward. Kyle gives her characters parts in historic events, allowing them first row seats in the action and painting a fuller picture of the era. The result is an engaging story of shifting loyalties, intrigue, and non-stop action. Justine is caught in a dilemma – should she be true to her biological father and her family’s faith? Or should she honor those who have raised her and shown her true kindness despite her bloodline? And if she choses her blood relations, will that ruin all chances of happiness with Will?
Justine is an engaging character, brave and smart. As the book progresses, however, she is easily manipulated and rather naive, thinking that she alone can win over two battling queens to reach a peaceful agreement. Justine deceives those she cares for most in order to obtain her goal, which felt slightly out of character, I thought. I found the struggle between Sir Adam, Sir Richard’s son, and his wife Frances to be the most interesting in the book, as Frances (born a Grenville) tries to win over her husband who is more interested in pleasing his queen than paying any attention to his loveless marriage.
A great book for all those Tudor history buffs out there. The ending of this one makes it clear that future action will center upon Sir Adam, so I’ll be interested to see where Kyle takes the story next. The sixth book, “The Queen’s Exiles”, was published this week!
Amazon link for the book is here.