The Virgin’s Spy (Tudor Legacy #5) by Laura Andersen

The “Tudor Legacy” series continues in this second book of the second trilogy. I sound like a broken record on this blog, but if you like Tudor historical fiction and haven’t given these a try, you should. The ripple effect of the alternate reality is captivating.

****SPOILER WARNING:**** This review will include spoilers for the first trilogy books, The Boleyn King, The Boleyn Deceit (reviewed here), and The Boleyn Reckoning (reviewed here); and also the first book of this trilogy, The Virgin’s Daughter (reviewed here).

The Virgin's Spy Front Cover (X)

The Virgin’s Spy Front Cover (Ballantine/Random House)

THE PLOT: While The Virgin’s Daughter primarily focused on Lucette, the daughter Minuette and William (also known as King Henry IX), this volume focuses mostly on Stephen, the oldest son of Minuette and Dominick Courtenay.

Stephen is the reliable, dutiful older son, the one who will one day be Duke of Exeter. He heads off for military duty in Ireland, where he learns some hard truths about combat, loss, and betrayal. His extended recovery brings him back to England, but guilt and a need for revenge shape his future. He volunteers to go undercover as a spy for Walsingham, but he may not realize the full cost until it’s too late.

Meanwhile, younger son Kit is trying to put some much-needed space between him and Anabel, the Princess of Wales. He knows full well that Anabel has to marry royalty, despite whatever affection lies between them. He heads with his family to Spain to visit Anabel’s father, King Philip, and his new wife…Mary, Queen of Scots. Kit’s twin sister, Pippa, carries some secrets of her own.

Anabel is left to be courted by the Duke of Anjou and King James of Scotland, but Anabel’s mother, canny Queen Elizabeth, throws a shocking curve into the proceedings.

MY TWO CENTS: One of the reasons these books succeed is because they follow a true path of how history might have progressed if one certain event had changed (Anne Boleyn giving birth to a surviving son). This means that the story is often gritty and unpleasant even when the reader wants everyone to get a happy ending. For example, poor Stephen really goes through the wringer in this book, and he also makes some terrible decisions. You understand why, even while you’re thinking, “No, Stephen, DON’T!” I was definitely engaged in Stephen’s story.

I also wish there could be a happy outcome for Kit and Anabel, but I just don’t see it happening. There can’t be a situation where Kit becomes king consort to Anabel’s queen.

I’m really interested to see what happens to Their Most Catholic Majesties, Philip and Mary. It would seem that war is on for the last book in the trilogy, but Philip may be reluctant to harm his own daughter.

 BOTTOM LINE: Critical development took place in this volume, and I wish The Virgin’s War would be here sooner than July 2016. I also hope Laura Andersen is planning to continue the story, or maybe tackle another period of history with an alternate twist.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups

ON SALE DATE: The Virgin’s Spy is available now in paperback and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Only Thing to Fear by Caroline Tung Richmond

The first time I saw this YA book in a catalog, the tagline caught my eye: “What if Hitler had won World War II?” And my response was, “SQUEEEEE!” Not at the thought of Hitler’s victory, of course; but at the idea of a new book that deals with the consequences of imagined alternate history. I put it on my watch-list and requested it as soon as it popped up on Netgalley (Thank you so much, Scholastic!) I did wonder how the Nazis would have won the war in this reality…and that’s when a little bit of  Captain America crossed with X-Men is added to the mix. Wheeee!

The Only Thing to Fear Front Cover (Scholastic)

The Only Thing to Fear Front Cover (Scholastic)

THE PLOT: (Imagine movie voiceover guy here…) In a WORLD where Adolf Hitler won WWII and executed President Roosevelt, and Washington D.C. is now known as Neuberlin…

It’s been 80 years since the Allies lost the war, and the world is divided into territories ruled by Nazis, Japan, Italy, and the Soviet Union. Germany won the war by developing genetically enhanced “super soldiers” before America could develop the atom bomb. These sentinels continue to enforce the rule of the Empire by wielding special powers. American “peasants” are known as Kleinbauern.

Zara St. James is a teenager who lives in the Shenandoah Valley of what used to be the United States, but is now the Eastern American Territories of the Nazi Empire. Zara is the product of a Japanese soldier who used and abandoned his American lover, so she is looked down on as a Untermensch, a sub-human half-breed, or a Mischling of mixed race. Zara’s mother was killed in the last attempt at rebellion. Her uncle Redmond (Red) also used to be a revolutionary, but now lives a docile life trying to fly under the radar of the Nazi government while he brings Zara up.

Zara has lost friends and loved ones who dared to speak out against the regime. Her life of servitude is spent cleaning the nearby Nazi academy and serving the cadets who attend. She tries to keep out of the cadets’ way and avoid drawing attention to herself, but Bastian Eckhart, son of Fort Goering’s commanding officer, seems to have an interest in her. What are his real motivations?

Plus, Zara is hiding a secret: she’s an anomaly—she has special powers like the sentinels, probably passed down through her father. She can control the wind, and eventually finds out she can create lightning as well. Uncle Red begs her to keep her powers hidden because the Nazis kill Kleinbauern anomalies, who might be a threat to them. But a series of events eventually pushes Zara straight to the heart of the American rebellion.

MY TWO CENTS: I have a lot of respect for any author who writes alternate history.  First the author has to KNOW history, and then he or she has to deal with the ripple effect of how changing the events also changes the outcomes. That’s a LOT of detail, from the big things, like how France is now the “French Territorial State,” to all the horrible detail stepped out in the White House scene in the climax. Maybe some readers will be drawn into researching some details of WWII. For example, do kids today even learn who Goering was? If not, maybe they’ll be intrigued enough to find out.

The book gradually builds toward two battles, a prison break and a final, massive mission. The first half of the book lays a lot of groundwork, while the second half pays off with a lot of action. My one semi-gripe could be that Zara becomes so important to the final mission, which seems to happen very quickly. I don’t know, though, if a sequel is guaranteed, and if not, it makes a lot of sense for Zara to fulfill a lot of potential by the end of this book.

Finally, I cannot stress how glad I am that this book his fairly little romance in it. Yes, we get that Bastian and Zara have a spark between them, but there is no full-blown romance and, thank you SO much, no love triangle.

BOTTOM LINE: This is a young adult book for the thinking reader. The spirit of The Hunger Games, but with a basis in actual world history. Young readers who are just looking for entertainment might learn something without even realizing it! A tiny hint of possible romance, but the book doesn’t revolve around it.

TEACUP RATING: A solid five out of five teacups. I’m glad this book lived up to the excitement I felt before reading it, and I sincerely hope there’s a sequel, if not a series.

ON SALE DATE: Available in hardcover and eformats on September 30, 2014.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Boleyn Reckoning (Boleyn Trilogy #3) by Laura Andersen

This is the third and final book in Laura Andersen’s Boleyn Trilogy. While I again enjoyed the world Andersen created, I found the second half of the book an emotionally difficult read as misery overtakes all the characters.

The Boleyn Reckoning Front Cover (Ballantine/Random House)

The Boleyn Reckoning Front Cover (Ballantine Books/Random House)

SPOILER WARNING: There will be spoilers from the first two books in the series, The Boleyn King and The Boleyn Deceit.

THE PLOT: This book again follows an alternate universe in which Anne Boleyn gave birth to a healthy son after giving birth to Elizabeth. Events leading up to the break between England and Rome still occurred, Mary was still proclaimed illegitimate, but everything following changed. Anne Boleyn and her brother George were never executed, Henry VIII never married four more times, the Seymours never came to power, etc. (I feel the need to explain this because at least one review I’ve read trashed the book on its faulty history. Uh, no, the word you want is reimagined.)

Anyway, this book focuses mainly on the idiocy of Minuette and Dominic from the end of the last book, where they secretly got married even though Henry IX, known to his friends as William, was making it clear that HE expected to make Minuette his queen. Will breaks his betrothal to the French princess and announces his intentions toward Minuette in a very public yet nonverbal way. For half the book, Minuette and Dominic sneak around, pretending to Will that they are still all the best of friends…and then finally, unexpectedly, he finds out the truth. Not surprisingly, Will loses all trust in his two friends. A little more surprising is his newfound distrust of his sister Elizabeth and just about everyone else as well. Then, he just devolves into the same sort of monster his father really was in history, but wasn’t in this alternate universe. Oh, and he has to deal with a Catholic rebellion, too, which offers up a whole lot of traitors to execute but doesn’t help his mood any.

MY TWO CENTS: The first two books, and some of this book, were almost light and fluffy in their handling of the subject matter. The second half of this book is somewhat hard to take as Will becomes brutal. I realize that he is stunned, hurt, and betrayed. He leaves the couple alone at first, and you’d think this would allow him time to start getting over it. But no, this time of rebellion just underlines how he doesn’t have his friends at his back (in fact, they stabbed him in the back) so he just loses his anchors to humanity. He finds ways to torture his friends (and his sister), physically, mentally, emotionally…did I already say “monster?” Yes? Well, once isn’t enough.

What I do find enjoyable, as I have throughout all three books, is Elizabeth. Her character is so similar to the real Elizabeth’s–her intelligence and leadership is apparent. What’s different is her aversion to marriage, as her parents’ legacy in this universe is one of loving partnership and not betrayal and murder. It will be interesting to see this Elizabeth come front-and-center in the author’s next books.

I like how characters and situations ultimately end up with similar ends as their historical counterparts (Jane Boleyn) or slightly different variations (Calais). I also love what the author does with figures that DON’T have the same end as their historical counterparts, such as Jane Grey and Mary Tudor. The author does a good job of saying, “Where would these people have wound up in a different timeline? How would they have acted?”

BOTTOM LINE: I didn’t love this book as much as I did the other two, but I still enjoy this world Andersen has created and look forward to her continuing it in The Sovereign Trilogy.

TEACUP RATING: I give this book 4 to 4½ out of 5 teacups. I just feel Will’s actions made for such an unpleasant read that I docked a few points. I wish the author could have found some way to salvage Will, but I fully understand why she couldn’t and didn’t.

ON SALE DATE: This book will be released in paperback and e-book formats on July 15, 2014.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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