Set in 1610, Lions in the Garden takes place just shortly after the end of Elizabeth I’s reign. However, where most of my historical fiction choices are set in England, this YA story takes place in Prague at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II.
THE PLOT: Having been threatened with marriage to an old man, 17-year-old Lady Ludmila Novakova is attempting to run away from the Bohemian court when she is accosted in the forest. Luckily she is saved by Marc Sykora, a young blacksmith, who returns her to the castle. Mila is smitten with her rescuer and invents reasons to see him, even after her elderly suitor is replaced as potential husband with her oldest, dearest friend…a powerful duke.
Mila has been brought up in the very sheltered court, so she has no idea how the peasants in the village live. Her understanding of the Protestant Reformation is “Catholics are good, Protestants are bad.” Her interaction with Marc and a shocking turn of events begin to open her eyes to true good and evil…out in the world AND disturbingly close to home inside the royal court.
MY TWO CENTS: Mila is extremely naïve, but not stupid. She makes some dumb choices, but they are based on what her privileged life has taught her to be true. Learning to question what she’s always been told is her first step to a wider world. The reader is definitely rooting for her by the end of the book.
Mila’s friends and family are a little harder to read. Marc seems to be a sympathetic character, but does he have ulterior motives? Is Mila’s childhood friend Radek a good guy, a bad guy, or something in between? Who is really running the court? And what drove Mila’s mother to commit suicide when Mila was a child?
I loved the setting. I’m so used to reading historical fiction set in Renaissance England that I’m somewhat ignorant of what was going on outside of England, Spain, and France. I really need to read some nonfiction about the Holy Roman Empire, and this book could be a similar gateway to that history for young adult readers.
BOTTOM LINE: An interesting read, relatively unfamiliar (to me) setting, an evolving heroine, and a story that’s not completely predictable. I’m looking forward to the release of its sequel, A Forest of Wolves, in September.
TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.
ON SALE DATE: Available March 1, 2016, in paperback and e-formats.
Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.