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Michele Jacobsen

Just an essay kind of girl living in a TL;DR world.

As you know, Bob....

The Marriage Game - Alison Weir

Although I've never cared for Weir's historical work (well researched but too biased in my opinion), I did very much like the first historical fiction novel she wrote. This, I felt, was her true calling. It allowed her to put her meticulous research to use and at the same time employ all the bias she wanted -- it was, after all, fiction. Have fun with it, I felt. And the result was fabulous.

Not so much for her follow up novel and most certainly not for this novel, The Marriage Game. The research, I must say, is still there. The technical writing of the novel is just...just...oh dear. The problems began for me as early as the third page where we find Elizabeth, soon after the death of her sister Queen Mary I, mentally going over how she plans to run her newly inherited kingdom. Her thoughts are quick to tell us that she will not make windows into men's souls (regarding the question of religion in her realm). Now. Everyone who knows anything about Elizabeth knows this is one of her most famous quotes. We've all read it. It's included in every biography and every work of fiction ever written about her. It's become an over-used trope. Was it really necessary to use it *word for word* in the stinking first chapter?

But it was just a sentence so I moved right along. Elizabeth, frankly, is portrayed as a conniving bitch in this book. And this part, I loved. It was a bit refreshing and was what saved the book from a two-star review. Because when you think about it, given her childhood and the environment in which she had to struggle to keep her throne, the woman wouldn't have lasted two seconds if she had been a trusting, loving Polly-Anna. Unfortunately, Weir doesn't go much beyond the bitchy part. The entire plot of the book consists of Elizabeth's yearning for Robert Dudley and dancing around the various marriage proposals that come her way throughout her reign. Angst over Dudley, marriage proposal, weasel out of it, repeat. For 400 pages.

Even that I could have forgiven were it not for the dreaded "As you know, Bob" syndrome that pervades nearly every bit of dialog throughout the book. This syndrome will drive you batty once you notice it. It happens when an author wants to fill the reader in on backstory via dialog, but it comes across at utterly stupid when you realize it's information that the characters would already know. So, for example (and I'm not going to quote from the text because the book is an advance copy and the publishers don't want you to quote from it until publishing date, so I'll just make up an example and tell you this is EXACTLY the kind of thing that goes on throughout this book):

King Larry to his wife, the Queen: "Well, as you may remember my dear, my father King Joseph the Third who ruled this kingdom for thirty years died last year of consumption and the entire kingdom was in mourning."

She's his wife. Of course she remembers, you idiot. She knows who your father was, so you don't need to use his full name and title, I'm pretty sure she would know what he died of, and she probably would be perfectly aware the entire kingdom was in mourning. It just sounds stupid. Gah!

The Marriage Game is full of this kind of "as you know" dialog between characters that is frustrating because *of course* the other character knows this and it's meant to inform you, the reader, but comes across and utterly unbelievable and eye-roll inducing. There are better ways to get the back-story to readers (although admittedly, it's a fine line because no one likes an info-dump either. That's why writing historical fiction is hard!).

So what we have here is yet another entry of Elizabeth I fiction into the already saturated Tudor market. It's hard to recommend it. For those of you who still have an interest in this time period and aren't completely burned out yet, I do still recommend Elizabeth Fremantle's two novels (her debut last year and another release this year in 2014) as very good entries in the field and suggest you track those down. If you really want to give this one a try, I'd suggest it as a library checkout.