Each book takes a historical character from Tudor England, and tells their story, usually from the point of view of someone close to them. In this case, the historical character is Mary, Queen of Scots, and the chapters alternate between Mary, the Earl of Shrewsbury (her jailer), and his wife, Bess of Hardwick. Interesting idea, but in reality it made the book tedious. The story seemed to go in circles, alternating between the different characters, and never seemed to go anywhere. And the story didn't have a proper ending - just a chapter randomly tacked on at the end, set 15 years after the rest of the book, on the day of Mary's execution.
Bess of Hardwick was the most believable of the main characters - she came across consistently as a woman who, in her own words "made the most of myself, and getting the best price for what I could bring to market ... a self-made woman - self-made, self-polished and self-sold - and proud of it." Her husband George, the Earl of Shrewsbury is indecisive one minute, loyal to the Queen of England the next; trusting his wife one minute, betraying her with the Queen of Scots the next.
And Mary, Queen of Scots is the least believable character in the book. In the author's note at the end of the book, the author writes that "I believe she was a woman of courage and determination who could have been an effective queen even in a country as unruly as Scotland. The principal difference between her and her successful cousin Elizabeth was good advice and good luck." However the character in her book is unpredictable, changeable as the wind, and inconsistent in her behaviour and reactions. One minute she is strong and courageous, scaling down the wall of a castle to escape; the next time we see her she is hysterical, and taken to bed with hysterical pains. She is manipulative and a 2-faced lier, and yet she seems unable to make a decision for herself. So annoying to read about!
It took me 2 1/2 weeks to finish this tedious book - and it is only 400 and some odd pages. I'm glad that it is a library book, and I can now return it. I have been flogging myself to finish so that I can move on to something more interesting!