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Book Review, Jeri Westerson, Roses in the Tempest

March 26, 2016

(Disclosure: I won a copy of this book in a giveaway from Westerson’s July 2015 newsletter.)

Jeri Westerson is best known for her Crispin Guest “medieval noir” mystery series, which I discovered a couple of years ago. Having enjoyed those books very much, I was thrilled to hear that she had written a novel set in the Tudor period (which for me is utter catnip). Roses in the Tempest was one of Westerson’s early books, but wasn’t published until 2015, and I admit to being impressed that Westerson set the novel within the context of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. While most Tudor-set novels tend to focus on Henry, his wives, or his court, Westerson does a fantastic job of showing how Henry’s policies had real and often stark consequences for his people. The novel centers on two characters, Thomas Giffard and Isabella Launder. Thomas is the son of the local nobleman, who befriends Isabella, the daughter of a yeoman farmer, largely because she is the one person in his life who refuses to defer to him. Isabella eventually joins the Benedictine priory at Blackladies, and the novel traces Thomas and Isabella’s relationship as they cope with the changing circumstances of Henry’s reign.

Thomas and Isabella did exist in real life, although the full scope of their relationship has been lost to history. The novel alternates between Thomas and Isabella’s viewpoints—in tone and structure, it reminds me a great deal of Lindsey Davis’ Roman-set novels The Course of Honour and Master and God (both were written after Roses…I just happened to read them immediately before it). Westerson does a fantastic job of conveying the emotional turmoil caused by Thomas and Isabella’s differing class positions, by the upheavals of Henry’s “Great Matter” and the formation of the Church of England, and by corrupt Tudor officials. My only real complaint with the story is that it ends abruptly and doesn’t quite feel satisfying for the reader. In the end, while Crispin Guest will always be my favorite Westerson character, I did enjoy the book quite a bit, and I’d be happy to see Westerson return to the Tudor period in future novels.

(Incidentally, Westerson also puts out one of the best author newsletters out there, and I’m not just saying that because I won a copy of her book. In her newsletters, she fills you in on self-publishing, arcana regarding medieval and Tudor history, and even weaponry. You can sign up here at Westerson’s website.)

Source: Copy from the author

Quick update (4/02/2016): Westerson just sent out her April newsletter, in which she announced that she is working on a new Tudor-era mystery series featuring Will Somers, Henry VIII’s fool.

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