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The Virgin's Lover    by Philippa Gregory order for
Virgin's Lover
by Philippa Gregory
Order:  USA  Can
Touchstone, 2004 (2004)
Hardcover, Audio, CD, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Shannon Bigham

Philippa Gregory's The Virgin's Lover takes the reader back to 1558 London, and provides an answer to an unsolved crime that has enthralled historians for centuries. Church bells are ringing in England to announce a new queen. Elizabeth I, a young woman in her twenties, is neither married nor betrothed. While some of her subjects love Elizabeth, the Catholics despise her, as do enemies of her Tudor lineage.

Fortunately, Elizabeth has William Cecil, experienced in court matters, as her trusted advisor. The newly anointed queen's triumph is short-lived when she learns that England is nearly bankrupt, its coin having barely more value than its weight. Also, England's relationships with France, Scotland and Spain are changing daily and war is looming. Cecil tells Elizabeth that she needs to marry a strong prince to help her govern her troubled country and that a suitable husband will strengthen both her personal position and England as a whole.

But Elizabeth has set her sights on a childhood friend, the handsome and intelligent Robert Dudley. While the dashing Dudley is equally enamored of Elizabeth, there are problems, specifically his wife, Amy, tucked away in the countryside. And though the aristocratic Dudleys were once powerful, Robert is in no way a suitable match for royalty. Elizabeth has set her eyes on a commoner, hated by many due to her affection for him. Robert himself is incredibly ambitious. Many see their relationship as preposterous if not scandalous, so that a pairing with Robert might topple the queen from the throne. Regardless, neither Robert nor Elizabeth can deny their love. The question becomes whether Dudley can 'set aside' his current wife.

Gregory does a masterful job of telling Elizabeth's story as she attempts to manage a troubled country while risking her throne. She portrays Robert's dual ambition to be king at Elizabeth's side, and shows how everyone is affected by the lovers' actions, including Cecil, and Robert's wife Amy. This is not a fast read, but a book to be savored. While I enjoyed The Other Bolelyn Girl (also by Gregory) more, I still recommend The Virgin's Lover to fans of historical fiction.

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