Emme is a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth I, and this novel shows us remarkably little about what that kind of life is actually like. In fact, we catch very few glances of Elizabeth herself, and from what we typically see, she is a harsh, demanding queen whom Emme is pretty intimidated by (though I can imagine I would have felt the same). Queen Elizabeth's hatred of marriage is explicitly stated many times - which foreshadows to the future romance that Emme will embark upon, risking her queen's wrath!
Emme's life at court is anything but happy - especially after that first scene - and she finds herself very attracted to the group of New World explorers who return from Virginia telling of their adventures. They refer to Virginia as the "New Eden" (which makes me happy, since it's my home!), and Emme just can't resist the opportunity to see it for herself. So, she asks Sir Francis Walsingham's permission, and as he sees it may benefit him to have a spy (of sorts) keeping an eye on the Spanish influence in the New World and of their very crew, he grants permission for Emme to join on their next voyage - and she is ecstatic!
Of course, there is the added romantic twist that helps develop the story, because Emme certainly can't resist this new adventure when she meets Christopher (Kit) Doonan, one of the crew members - and undoubtedly a swoon-worthy one at that. She's only too happy to climb aboard his ship, and he turns out to be quite a charming character, though he's facing demons of his own throughout the trip.
Unfortunately, by the end of the novel, the tensions between the natives and the newcomers comes to an explosive head, and life in the New World is more dangerous and unpredictable than anyone had thought. Somehow, Barden is able to manage quite a cute love story between the two main characters - despite the struggles everyone is experiencing and the many (well-researched) details given about the uncomfortable lives everyone is living. I'll be honest, there were times the details were a bit much for me, and I found myself hoping for more action - but more action did come!
There was plenty of everything in this novel - romance, intrigue, scandal, action, danger, and humor… as well as some beautifully-researched and detailed storytelling that Barden obviously spent a great amount of time, effort, and love doing. I would encourage anyone interested in a different kind of Tudor novel to pick this one up. I think they'll be pleasantly surprised at just how unique this story is.
More praise for "The Lost Duchess" includes:
"Beautifully written and researched!" - C.W. Gortner
"Fascinating… exotic, savage, and altogether engrossing." - Diana Gabaldon
Interested in winning a copy of "The Lost Duchess?" Leave a comment below (DON'T FORGET TO INCLUDE YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS) and I'll draw one random lucky winner one week from today (June 9th)!