The Twylight Tower Mass Market Paperback – 1 Jan 2002
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"Harper's exquisite mastery of the period, lively dialogue, energetic plot, devious characters, and excellent rendition of the willful queen make this a pleasure...."
"An intoxicating blending of historical pageantry with 21st-century suspense laced with high drama and deadly intrigue."
-Abilene Reporter-News (Tex.)
Harper s exquisite mastery of the period, lively dialogue, energetic plot, devious characters, and excellent rendition of the willful queen make this a pleasure....
An intoxicating blending of historical pageantry with 21st-century suspense laced with high drama and deadly intrigue.
Abilene Reporter-News (Tex.)"
From the Inside Flap
It is May 1560. As sinister storm clouds gather overhead, twenty-six-year-old Queen Elizabeth dispatches William Cecil, her most trusted adviser, to Scotland for crucial negotiations. Handsome, ambitious Lord Robert Dudley is at her side. But their leisurely midsummer idyll is cut short when the court's master lutenist plunges to his death from a parapet beneath the queen's window. The loyal retainers of Elizabeth's privy council do not accept the official verdict of accidental death. Their fears are borne out when another tragedy rocks the realm, and points the way to a conspiracy to bring down Elizabeth and seize the throne. As ill winds of treachery swirl around the court, and suspicion falls on those within Elizabeth's intimate circle, a vengeful enemy slips from the shadows...a traitorous usurper who would be sovereign.
With The Twylight Tower, Karen Harper brings a legendary era to life, drawing us into an intoxicating world of majesty and mayhem, political intrigue and adventure...where danger is everywhere...and where a young queen journeys to greatness in the long shadow of her bloodstained past.
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It's May 1560, and a very young and carefree Elizabeth I is conductiong a rather dangerous flirtation with the very married Lord Robert Dudley, much to the dismay of her friends and advisers. But Elizabeth refuses to pay any heed to those who warn her that this infatuation of hers could cause her her crown. Elizabeth's thoughts are firmly focused on Dudley, love, dancing, masques and summer; and she has no time for matters of state, much to the anger and chagrin of William Cecil, her chief adviser. She even shrugs off the feeling that she is being spied upon rather than allow her unease to interfere with her pleasures! And when her favourite lutenist falls to his death, instead of demanding that the accident be fully investigated, Elizabeth accepts that his death was an accidental one -- so loathe is she to fill her mind with anything but pleasurable thoughts of Robert Dudley!
Her loyal servants of the Privy Plot Council however do not accept that the musician's death was accidental, and covertly, they begin to investigate his death. But when an ambitious young courtier is seriously injured during a rehearsal for a masque, thus almost causing the Queen to fall to her death, Elizabeth finally realises that someone is out to get her. Will Elizabeth and her servants succeed in unmasking the culprit before he/she can strike again?
Karen Harper has done a marvelous job of sustaining the atmosphere of tension in this novel: will Elizabeth's risky infatuation with Dudley lead to a scandal that could rock the country and her hold on the throne? Who is the secret watcher that seems to be dogging the Queen's very footsteps? And will Elizabeth come to her senses in time to realise that someone is out for her blood, or will more 'accidents' take place? While most of the character is this novel are a bit paper-thin, Harper's portrayal of Elizabeth I is brilliant -- she has successfully captured the many facets of the Queen's personality: capricious, quick tempered, generous, intelligent, suspicious, and vulnerable. Karen Harper also does a wonderful job of portraying the murderer by showing how a life of thwarted dreams and ambitions can affect an uncertain and deranged mind. And even though I imagine that this may not have been the authour's intention, I came away feeling rather sorry for the murderer.
"The Twylight Tower" is quite a good novel of political intrigue, and reminded me quite a bit of the novels (of a similar genre) by Jean Plaidly. Indeed, Karen Harper even manages to shed an interesting light to the death of Amy Robsart, Robert Dudley's unfortunate and much neglected wife. A good and interesting read.
In THE TWYLIGHT TOWER, Karen Harper presents Elizabeth with an additional problem--murder. While at first the deaths appear accidental, they soon resolve to a major threat to Elizabeth herself. Elizabeth's privy council wait for her orders to swing into action (this is the third of Harper's Elizabeth mysteries after all so they know how to sidekick), but Elizabeth is too busy being enamored of Lord Robert to have much time for crime solving.
That, in a nutshell is the problem with the book. The protagonist of a mystery is too busy to solve the mystery until the very end. Like most mystery readers, I prefer to see the protagonist struggle, seeking resolution in a number of ways. Waiting through two hundred pages for the protagonist to get around to it isn't what I want.
I enjoyed THE TWYLIGHT TOWER and I think the concept of Elizabeth as detective is delightful. As a mystery, I found it merely average, however.
This is not the case in "The Twylight Tower." As the series proceeds chronologically, Elizabeth is now Queen of England. Harper doesn't seem able to devise a plausible mystery within the confines of the better known historical details of Elizabeth's summer at Windsor in 1560. For instance, the significance of her romance with Robert Dudley is much studied, as are the circumstances of the death his wife, Amy Robsart; the machinations of the Spanish ambassador; and the political fortunes of Robert Cecil, the Lord Chancellor.
In addition, Harper seems to be losing interest in the minor characters who comprise the Privy Plot Council. This time around Meg is portrayed as a sniveling liar, Burleigh a drunk, and Ned is barely seen at all. Too bad. These characters helped make the previous books interesting.
Harper yet again shows her historical characters to advantage: Dudley is the dashing, grasping, true yet untrue man he was in real life, Cecil is Elizabeth's rock, and Elizabeth herself is the sharp, sensible young woman we know from history whose head has been turned (as every young person's has at one time) by a fair face. They remain true to character and true to form throughout the novel.
However, Harper yet again drags in her myriad of original characters, none of which seem to remain the same from novel to novel. I've written in a review of The Tidal Poole (Elizabeth I Mysteries, Book 2) that a common fault of series writers is their assumption that readers will follow them from book to book starting from Book 1 in the series. This leads them to be too sparse with characterization in later books, confusing readers who begin the series later on. Harper makes this mistake again in The Twylight Tower, but also makes another error: she allows her characters' temperaments and personalities to vacillate to fit her plot. This is especially true with respect to her original characters, such as Gil the artist whose temperament changes from book to book, but is most obvious with respect to Meg the herbalist, whom Harper blunders with despite her overly sympathetic view of her.
But the worst part of this book is that the plot itself and the resolution simply don't hold water, and one reason is that Harper ignores and even openly sneers at evidence-based science in what appears to be an attempt to turn a mystery into a paean to quack medicine. On every page the characters praise the benefits of herbs; on every page Meg the herb girl is considered by all as smarter and more capable than she is. It's doltish, and it makes the characters seem both less intelligent and less perceptive than they need to be. And yet this woman who sneers at evidence-based science purports to concoct mysteries based on...that's right, evidence. It's awfully hypocritical; what's more, this hypocrisy - using evidence to solve a mystery while sneering at evidence - shows in the poorly constructed plot.
I don't recommend this doltish book. Elizabeth I could do so much better than Karen Harper and her quackery.
First, her history. The first novel in the series was bad enough, with not the slightest mention that Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth's mother, was herself a Butler of Ormond! The princess's erstwhile murderer would, therefore, have been a cousin, and letting the reader in on their relationship would have deepened and enriched the story.
But that's a mere quibble. On page 238 of THE TWYLIGHT TOWER, Elizabeth says, in reference to the founding of the Order of the Garter, "I'll tell you one thing about King Edward III, who began this nearly six centuries ago. . ."
As a student of the Fourteenth Century, I gritted my teeth on reading so crass a mistake. The Garter's founding is sightly uncertain, but the Order was founded (indeed, by Edward III) some time between 1344 and 1348. Now, simple subtraction from 1560 gives us a difference of little more than 200 years, not 600. I thought the error might be a strange typo--perhaps originally "200" mistakenly typed as "600" and then editorially spelled out. But it is Harper's mistake. Two pages later Robert Dudley (perhaps addled by lust!) refers to the founding as occurring "hundreds of years ago."
At that point I felt like throwing an ink bottle at Karen Harper. No one so ignorant of history should be writing a novel purporting to be "historical."
As for style, Harper is too often guilty of indulging in the "forsooth school" of dialogue (Josephine Tey's term), yet is maddeningly inconsistent in her use of historically correct grammar. Since I believe that she is an English teacher, she is surprisingly ignorant of extant older grammatical forms. Here lapses are manifold, and include using the indicative rather than the subjunctive mode ("if it was" rather than "if it were") and "like" instead of "such as" in a phrase containing a verb.
Picky, perhaps, but such Americanisms are quite destructive of the novel's verisimiliatude. Are her characters Elizabethans--or modern Americans speaking U.S. English?
My recommendation is to avoid these novels...