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Review: Legacy, by Susan Kay

Pages: 647

Original date of publication: 1985

My edition: 1987 (Avon)

Why I decided to read: heard about it through HFO

How I acquired my copy:, April 2010

Legacy is the fictional story of one of England greatest queens—Elizabeth I, who reigned from 1558 until her death in 1603. It was during her reign that England achieved a certain amount of political stability and created a sense of national identity in the English people. Her relationship with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, was highly debated, and it’s the focus of part of the plot of this novel. Elizabeth’s relationship with William Cecil is also central to the plot.

I haven’t read many novels about the life of Elizabeth I (Jean Plaidy wrote one called Queen of this Realm that I wasn’t so keen on because she focused more the legend, not the actual person), but this is easily the best. Susan Kay gets into the head and heart of Elizabeth, who’s a very difficult person to write fiction about, I think—probably because so much is known about her life that there’s not much room for invention. And it’s hard for an author to present these well-known facts about Elizabeth’s life in a new, exciting way. I actually felt, for example, the tension that Elizabeth felt while imprisoned in the Tower, not knowing what would happen to her. It’s also pretty ambitious for an author to tackle Elizabeth’s entire life (actually, starting with Henry VIII’s break from Rome so that her could marry her mother, Anne Boleyn), but Kay does it in an admirable way.

Susan Kay does play around a bit with the history in this novel, however, especially with regards to what happened to Robert Dudley’s wife, Amy. But the author gives her reader great insight into Elizabeth’s thoughts and feelings in a believable, real way. I think that history has put Elizabeth on a bit of a pedestal in terms of what she accomplished during her reign, but Kay turns her into a real, fallible person in this novel, easily likeable despite her faults and mistakes. The author glossed over the fact that Elizabeth was a patron of the arts in real life; she was even a published author herself. But since this book has a lot of ground to cover, it’s understandable that some things would be missed. Overall, this is an excellent novel about the life of Elizabeth I. Sourcebooks is coming out with a reprint of this next month, and it's good that this book will be enjoyed by a new generation of readers.


Misfit said…
I agree, this is one of the best books I've ever read on Elizabeth.
S. Krishna said…
I've heard this is an amazing book. Your review really makes me want to read it!
Great review Katherine!

I snagged this book at a library sale last year, but I haven't read it yet. I've only heard good things about it and am trying to get to it soon!

Another book on Elizabeth that I enjoyed very much was I, Elizabeth by Rosalind Miles.

Thanks for the review!
Marg said…
I want this one so badly. I have heard so many good things about it. The weight of expectations will be high that's for sure. Interesting to hear that she plays with history a bit.
Although I've never read it, your review makes me want to! I found a perfect copy at the Goodwill and bought it ONLY because I love Phantom, which is also by Susan Kay. If you've never read it, you need to! It's an original spin on the true story behind The Phantom of the Opera...
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