Dunn fails to deliver in her newest melodrama, a meandering historical that chronicles the expedition of Rafael, a Spanish retainer sent on what he is told will be a brief trip to construct a sundial for Mary Tudor. But once he arrives in xenophobic and unstable England, Rafael does little but whine about the weather and how much he misses his wife and son. Unfortunately for Rafael, his project is delayed, and while waiting to return home, he becomes infatuated with Cecily, a tender housekeeper who becomes his constant companion despite their language barrier. They fall in love (albeit excruciatingly slowly), but their affair is complicated by Rafael's conflicting feelings for his wife. Mary, meanwhile, plays a very secondary role until a late-book shift in which she becomes a paramount force in the narrative as it tumbles toward a surprising conclusion. Although Dunn nails Rafael's fascination with sex, and her eye for detail remains sharp, much of the prose feels stilted, and the interminably slow plot is hobbled by a wallowing narrator and facile treatments of isolation, religious tension and icy domestic life. (Dec.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
With her famous false pregnancy and desperate struggle to hold onto her husband, Philip of Spain, while trying to keep her increasingly Protestant realm Catholic, Mary Tudor-the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon-is the queen whose sorrow pervades a critical time in English history. Dunn has moved from successful British chick lit to historical novels (e.g., The Queen of Subtleties)-all, so far, set during the Tudor period. Her preferred method pairs a royal character with a more ordinary soul in the court's orbit. In this novel, Rafael is part of Philip's entourage, commissioned to create a sundial as a wedding present for Mary. When he encounters the queen by accident in the royal garden, she sees him as a sympathetic, neutral ear and asks for more visits with him. While Rafael waits for his project to be funded in an increasingly volatile and rebellious England, he becomes entangled with the English family with whom he boards. Grittier and less romantic than Philippa Gregory's popular period novels, this book is recommended for public libraries with large historical fiction collections. [Fans of historical fiction set in this period might also be interested in C.W. Gortner's The Last Queen, about Mary Tudor's aunt, Juana of Castile.-Ed.]
Mary K. Bird-Guilliams