Queen of Ambition Hardcover – 28 Jan 2002
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"Kirkus Reviews" Ursula is the essence of iron cloaked in velvet -- a heroine to reckon with.
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Make no mistake about it however, "The Queen of Ambition" is a good read. As reviewer Charles Falk so accurately noted, Fiona Buckley does a wonderful job of interweaving the political and religious problems that Elizabeth I and her ministers faced, with the plot of this mystery novel. But what I also liked was the manner in which Buckley realistically interweaved the kind of life a servant at an Elizabethan pie-shop would lead -- the hard and relentless work, how much a servant's life was bound to the whims and caprices of the master, and the precious few hours off, with Ursula's covert search for proof of wrong-doing. Far too often, mystery writers never go into how an agent's cover can get in the way of his/her undercover work. This was, I thought, a splendid touch. I also liked the manner in which Ursula's confidence in her abilities as a secret agent are developing. Ursula Blanchard is not an easy female protagonist to like completely, but it is easy to respect her abilities and her competence. And I think that Buckley is beginning to make Ursula question many of her past assumptions about her past relationships (with her first husband, and her aunt in particular). More introspection would definitely add more 'spice' to the mix.
The novel unfolds interestingly enough. Buckley is very good at adding little bits of information and plot developments that adds to the tension level of this intrigue novel -- in spite of the ongoing critiquing that was going on in my mind, I was glued to the pages until I finished the novel! So all in all, I'd say that this is a book that is worth reading.
Elizabeth and her court are about to set off on a royal summer progress to Cambridge. Cecil is worried about a proposed student "entertainment" involving a mock sword fight with Dudley and a faked abduction. He calls upon the services of his secret agents, including Ursula Blanchard, to investigate whether there is something sinister behind the student jape. I have some difficulty with Blanchard serving as a trusted operative for Sir William. Not only is she a woman (in a time when women occupied a circumscribed role in society), but she is married to a French Catholic nobleman. Cecil was adamantly anti-Catholic and anti-French. Once one accepts the unlikely existence of her lead character, Buckley provides a fast-paced, well-written yarn.
Ursula decides to go undercover by working in a pie shop frequented by the students planning the entertainment. The leader of the group dies in a riding accident shortly after she meets him. The Queen's arrival is imminent, pressuring Blanchard and her associates to come up with answers quickly.
Though the solution is intricate and a bit farfetched, Buckley gives the reader a throughly enjoyable trip through the society and intrigues of Elizabethan England. I particularly like the way Buckley shows Ursula and her colleagues as rounded human beings, affected and altered by the events of the story.
William recalls lady-in-waiting and sometimes spy Ursula Blanchard, to return to work and do what she does so well going undercover. Ursula, who was rusticating with her preadolescent daughter, obtains a job in a very popular student hangout, Roland Jester's Pie Shop. There she hears plots and counterplots to include rumors on the accidental death of a student who worried about the Queen's safety while attending their performance.
QUEEN OF AMBITION cleverly blends genuine tidbits with fiction so that the reader obtains a strong historical mystery. The cogent story line engages the audience with a vividly described plot and a effective cast though some tertiary characters seem unnecessary to the well being of the tale. However, as with Fiona Buckley's four previous Blanchard novels this book belongs to the remarkable heroine who turns this story into a royal read for fans of Elizabethan novels and historical mysteries.
The period details are fascinating, set during a time when plots around Mary Queen of Scots still abounded and when the memory of Bloody Mary was still strong. Ursula's ability to be effective as a spy due to the unexpectedness of her gender, and the difficulties of life serving under a tough master add to the interest. The mystery was curious, although not much was revealed of it until the end.
I have only read one previous book in this series and although my experience was satisfactory enough, I still haven't warmed much to Ursula and her adventures. There is something about her feelings that remain distant and somewhat cold, and I'm still uncertain about her motivations--and those of the people around her.