This novel was released in the US last month and has already been showered in praise by other historical authors, including Diana Gabaldon (bestselling author of the "Outlander" series): "Fast paced and exciting, with a most engaging hero… So vivid, you feel you are there!"
Read on for my own thoughts on "The Tudor Vendetta," an interview with the author himself, and then enter for a chance to win the complete set of The Spymaster Chronicles - (giveaway open to US residents only).
BLURB FOR "THE TUDOR VENDETTA":
Winter, 1558: Elizabeth I has ascended the throne but the first days of her reign are already fraught with turmoil, the kingdom weakened by strife and her ability to rule uncertain.
Summoned from exile abroad at the new queen’s behest, Brendan Prescott arrives in London to face his shattered past. He soon finds himself pitted in deadly rivalry with his life-long foe, Robert Dudley, but when a poison attempt overshadows the queen’s coronation, Elizabeth privately dispatches Brendan on a far more dangerous assignation: to find her favored lady-in-waiting, Lady Parry, who has vanished in Yorkshire.
Upon his arrival at the crumbling sea-side manor that may hold the key to Lady Parry’s disappearance, he encounters a strange, impoverished family beset by grief, as well as mounting evidence that they hide a secret from him. The mystery surrounding Lady Parry deepens as Brendan begins to realize there is far more going on at the manor than meets the eye, but the closer he gets to the heart of the mystery, the more he becomes the quarry of an elusive stranger with a vendetta— one that could expose both his own buried identity and a long-hidden revelation that will bring about Elizabeth’s doom.
From the intrigue-laden passages of Whitehall to a foreboding Catholic manor and the prisons of the Tower, Brendan must risk everything to unravel a vendetta that strikes at the very core of his world, including his loyalty to his queen.
I had read Gortner's first novel in The Spymaster Chronicles - "The Tudor Secret" - but unfortunately never got my hands on the second in the series, "The Tudor Conspiracy." Therefore, starting this novel, I was afraid I would be a little lost. Characterization and an understanding of past events can be key when reading any series, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the style of writing actually lent itself well to a reader who was not familiar with the background story.
Right from the beginning, it's obvious that Brendan Prescott is haunted by events in his recent past - most notably, he is haunted by a woman who tricked him and led him into grave danger. On a personal level, he regrets that that same woman caused him to betray the only woman he's ever truly loved, his beloved Kate (first seen in "The Tudor Secret"). Soon after arriving at court, Prescott finds himself at Walsingham's mercy once more - pitted against his rival and enemy, Robert Dudley.
Many readers of The Tudor Enthusiast will know already that I adore Robert Dudley, so I rarely like to read about him in a negative light… but I have to say, by the end of this novel I was happy with his characterization! As for Brendan Prescott, I love his character. I think he is brave, intelligent, and beautifully human. He feels regret, confusion, and fear, while these are some emotions we don't always get to read about in characters who are meant to be brave. But Prescott knows he is in danger from the moment he sets off on his mission to discover the truth behind Lady Blanche Parry's disappearance.
I was most pleasantly surprised by Gortner's clever twist about 2/3 of the way through the book. Suddenly, a royal secret is revealed in Yorkshire and Prescott has to risk life and limb to reach the queen. This novel truly is as fast-paced as it promises to be in the blurb - it travels from court, to a country manor house, to the Tower of London without ever pausing for a breath. We, the readers, are thrown into action along with the hero, cheering for him until the very end - which, I have to say, is very satisfying.
I'd certainly recommend "The Tudor Vendetta" to any Tudor Enthusiast - and I would suggest reading the other two in the series first. I now need to get my hands on "The Tudor Conspiracy" so I can round out the story and see what I missed, though like I said, I feel Gortner did a great job keeping me up to speed with this novel. Brilliantly done!
1. What is your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?
I love being able to slip into the past and recreate it from the vantage point of the present. No matter how realistic we strive to be as writers, most, if not all, historical fiction reflects in some manner the way we feel about today. We seek to make sense of our current time by looking back, and it’s always fascinating to me to see how my fiction helps me understand the world I live in. I also really enjoy the research, especially delving into odd byways, like how long it would take to ride on horseback from London to Yorkshire. Research can be such a funhouse; one things leads to another, and often while seeking out the answer to one dilemma, I’ll find unexpected inspiration for another, based on something I read.
2. Can you walk us through your process when researching and writing a novel?
I have a three-fold approach. The first part involves reading biographies and books about the era, how people lived, dressed; transportation, architecture, medicine—everything I need to know to make the setting feel real. A significant amount of what I learn never makes it into the final book, but it’s important to discover as much as I can when I start. I also draft emotional and psychological profiles of my characters, as people who lived hundreds of years ago experienced the world very differently from the way we do. I have to understand my characters’ motivations and circumstances, so I can make them relatable to my reader. The second part involves documents from the era, such as letters, ambassadorial dispatches, and accounts written by those who saw or recorded the events. This part is time-consuming because the further back in time you go, the less likely these types of documents exist or are accessible; I have to write to university archives, museums, and historical centers to get copies, if available, or make appointments to see them. The third part, and most fun for me, is traveling to the places I write about, to see the locales where my characters lived. That said, I tend to research only as much as I need to in order start writing, until I hit a wall. Then I’ll research more to get writing again. Because research is so seductive (you can spend your entire life doing it) I have a strict rule: three months of intensive, initial research and then I must start the first draft.
3. Why the Tudor period specifically?
I grew up when the BBC series “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” and “Elizabeth R” were being aired; I was still quite young but utterly fascinated. The Renaissance era is one of my favorites. When I lived in southern Spain, I used to play in a ruined castle that had belonged to Isabella of Castile. I also attended both Spanish and English-language schools, and history was by far my favorite subject. I always wanted to know more about the people: how they felt, how their world looked, what challenges they faced. History is often taught as a recital of dry facts, but I had a particular history teacher who saw how much I loved it. She gave me history books and historical novels. The first historical novel I read was Murder Most Royal by Jean Plaidy and I felt as if a door opened wide. Suddenly, I saw how history can come alive, how emotions can clothe the skeletons of the past in flesh and blood. After that, I read every historical novel I could, as well as history books. To me, the Tudors offer a microcosm for history lovers: there is so much upheaval, passion, and drama; their larger-than-life personalities and oft-tragic fates—we must see something of ourselves in the Tudors, for their fascination on our imagination is enduring.
4. What is your favorite location you have traveled to for research purposes?
That’s so tough to answer. All of my trips are special in their own unique ways. I’d have to say, however, that my visit to Chenonceau in France while writing The Confessions of Catherine de Medici remains one of my favorites. It was a turning point for me in how I approached her character. Originally, I’d wanted to portray her as an unreliable narrator, someone who believes she’s right, although she really is monstrous. Yet once I visited her chateau and learned that in her original gardens, she grew organic vegetables because she believed in good nutrition and had areas for rescued animals, like two bears she freed from a baiting ring, I caught a glimpse into aspects of Catherine that are rarely explored, her love for animals and nature, and her quest to keep her family safe. After a particularly brutal period in her son Francois II’s reign, she brought him and his wife Mary of Scots to Chenoceau for respite. The rumor that she detested Mary and actively brought about her exile from France was disproved then and there; in a conversation with the extremely knowledgeable chateau docent, I discovered there are private letters archived in Paris between Mary and Catherine, in which, years after Mary had returned to Scotland, she continued to write to Catherine for advice and Catherine tried to assist her. Research trips like this often yield unexpected moments I’d never otherwise come across; all of my trips have provided me with special insight into my characters, which is why for me, travel for research is essential.
5. If you could time travel, where would you go and why?
I’d love to see Belle Époque Paris; I’m endlessly fascinated by the artistic movement of that era. I’m also very fond of the 1920s. However, I would like to visit, not stay. I’m partial to civil and animal rights, antibiotics, and the other myriad comforts of our modern age.
6. Who are some of your favorite novelists?
Far too many to mention here! I love M.J. Rose’s historical suspense novels, the ways she weaves history with the supernatural and art. I’m also a huge fan of Kate Forsyth, Michelle Moran, Robert Hicks, Tasha Alexander, David Blixt, and C.C. Humphreys.
7. Who are your favorite characters from your own books?
I think Brendan is my favorite, in that he’s closest in his personality to me; he has my respect for loyalty and compromise, my love for animals, and reflects my own struggles to find balance between who I am and who I hope to be. But when I’m writing, every character in my current work-in-progress is my favorite. In order to work on a book for a year or more, I have to fall in love with my characters, even the villains. I must find their darkness and light, their strengths and weaknesses, so they become real to me; I have to know them like I know myself, and understand them. Otherwise, writing becomes a chore, and for me, writing without passion has no point.
8. Are you currently working on anything new that you can tell us about?
My next novel is Mademoiselle Chanel, about the dramatic, intimate life of the iconic designer Coco Chanel. It will be released on March 17, 2015. It’s a dream come true for me; I began my professional career in fashion and my thesis project while in college involved reinterpreting her designs, putting my spin on how I would market her in the current industry. She changed not only the way women dressed but also how they saw themselves; she influenced the world, one of the first entrepreneurial women to build a global empire that endures to this day. Her personal life was also quite tumultuous and controversial; she was complex, engaging, and demanding as a subject—and I reveled in her voice. Also, it was refreshing to write a character who could call her friends on the telephone!
9. Is it sad for you, seeing your Spymaster Chronicles come to an end?
I knew while writing The Tudor Vendetta that I’d reached the end of this particular story arc, and for a while, it was hard to let go. I had to remind myself that when I first conceived the idea fifteen years ago of writing a suspense novel set in Tudor England before Elizabeth becomes queen, featuring a fictional young man with a potentially lethal secret of his own, I wasn’t planning to do a series at all. I was just obsessed with the first one. After three books, I knew the time had come to explore other horizons. I’m not a novelist who can write the same era over and over; I’m eclectic, with many interests beyond the 16th century and the Tudors. But I bear great fondness for these characters, and who knows what the future holds? I might return later to Brendan, Elizabeth, and their assorted friends and foes. However, for now, I believe the trilogy stands on its own and I’m proud of it. Writing a series is challenging; I have even greater respect now than I did before for writers who can do it for multiple books, over years. Honestly, I am both saddened and relieved, because while I will miss Brendan, I have a fresh slate to create new characters in different times, and I’m very excited about my new projects.
10. Lastly, any advice for those who also want to write Tudor fiction?
I think my best advice is to write what you love. We’re often told to write what we know, but when I first started, I knew very little, overall. I research to acquire knowledge, but I always write about subjects I feel passionate about. To write well, we must be utterly committed to it—and to be committed, we must write about things we cannot forget, the things that obsess us. That said, I think passion is only one aspect of being a commercially successful novelist in this day and age. The industry is changing so rapidly and as writers, we have to accept that the marketplace presents challenges we might not like but should heed. The Tudor era has been heavily covered in both fiction and non-fiction these past few years; it’s tough to interest publishers in the same subject after there’s been so much of it, so I think that in order to write and publish Tudor fiction successfully, you need a fresh angle and approach. Even then, there’s no guarantee an editor will be interested in acquiring it, but realizing this going in is important. The path to publication is full of rejection and disappointment, so knowing you have something unique can help ease the inevitable obstacles ahead.
Thank you for spending this time with me. I hope your readers enjoy The Tudor Vendetta. To learn more about me and my work, please visit me at www.cwgortner.com.
You can enter below for a chance to win the entire The Spymaster Chronicles series! (Sorry, but the giveaway is limited to US residents only). This giveaway ends at 11:59 on November 28th, and a winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter the following day. The winner will be notified by email and will have 48 hours to respond before a new winner is chosen.