Alison Weir follows her novel “The Lady Elizabeth” with “The Marriage Game”, a story that details Elizabeth I’s precarious negotiations on the European marriage market spanning roughly 25 years. The true love of Elizabeth’s life, her childhood friend Robert Dudley, is a married man whose wife Amy sickens and then mysteriously dies. Elizabeth bounces between French, Spanish, and English suitors, never committing but always coquettish, while Dudley – the one man she can’t have as he is married, of lower status, and the son of a traitor – is the one she desires most. Even so, Elizabeth keeps Dudley on tenterhooks, allowing him intimacy and providing him with lavish gifts and titles, but never fully consummating their relationship or setting a date for marriage. Age doesn’t slow Elizabeth’s zeal for playing the game, and she keeps a rotating array of suitors on the line until she nears 50 years of age.
I’m afraid Ms. Weir really let me down with this one. Although her non-fiction is stellar, this novel falls short. Reading this book is like being on a never-ending carousel ride – the scenery never changes and it becomes tiresome. The same scenario is played out repeatedly, regardless of the suitor, and all the characters (and the reader too) quickly become exasperated with Elizabeth’s antics. It isn’t a very complimentary picture of Elizabeth. She comes off as unstable, shallow, prone to histrionics, manipulative, and even occasionally, malicious. You start to question Robert’s intelligence when he sticks around to be her lap dog for as long as he does. She seems to delight in pulling him towards her and then shoving him away. You certainly sympathize with her mistreated advisors who must cater to Elizabeth’s ever-changing whims, however. It was a challenge to finish the book. I would point readers towards Ms. Weir’s excellent non-fiction options instead.
Amazon link is here.