Long live the Queen! A magnificent Queen Elizabeth I reigned in the movie Shakespeare in Love, but it is the younger queen of the film Elizabeth whom we meet in Fiona Buckley's acclaimed Ursula Blanchard mystery series.
It's 1562 and Catholic Spain threatens the stability of Protestant England. In France, the Protestant Huguenots also face threats from the powerful Catholics. Fearing that such pro-Catholic movements might spread to England, Elizabeth hopes to mediate a peace between the two French factions.
Enter Ursula Blanchard, twenty-seven-year-old Lady of the Presence Chamber, who has a special mandate from Sir William Cecil, Secretary of State, to spy on behalf of the queen. Nearly the same age as Elizabeth, Ursula has already proved herself worthy of the queen's gratitude in difficult and dangerous situations.
The queen wants Ursula to go to France, where civil war may break out at any moment, to hand-carry a letter from Elizabeth to France's queen mother and regent, Catherine de Médicis. To keep her mission secret, Ursula will ostensibly accompany her former father-in-law, Luke Blanchard, a man she neither likes nor trusts, when he travels to France to fetch his young ward, Helene, to the safety of England.
Ursula has the queen's protection and she has with her her faithful servants Brockley and Dale. But she soon realizes that sinister forces threaten her. Is someone trying to prevent her from delivering the letter? Whom can she trust? Luke Blanchard? Helene? Her servants? Anthony Jenkinson, the blithe merchant adventurer whose path crosses hers and who has enemies of his own? Can she be sure even of the queen? What will happen to Meg, her little daughter left behind in England, if she fails to return?
Perhaps the most poignant of all, Ursula's second husband, Matthew, a Frenchman and an enemy of Elizabeth, is somewhere in France, but can she see him without bringing disaster on both of them? There is powerful chemistry between them but what is their destiny?
Ursula soon learns that she faces an enemy who will stop at nothing -- not murder, not torture, not charges of heresy that may lead to burning at the stake -- to destroy her. To prevail, she must undertake a desperate new mission of her own, with an innocent life at risk.
Murder, treason, treasure, passion -- they all combine to make a compelling historical mystery from an author whose vast knowledge of the period adds depth and color to this riveting new series.
A woman with a '90s attitude living in the 1560s--that's Ursula Blanchard, the heroine of Buckley's jaunty historical mystery series, of which this is the third entry (after To Shield the Queen and The Doublet Affair). This time out, the 27-year-old lady-in-waiting is sent on a dangerous mission to France on the brink of civil war. In an effort to mitigate the threats from Spain and France, 28-year-old Queen Elizabeth I wishes to negotiate accords among the warring French Catholics and Protestants, and to secure her support among the latter. Since Ursula had planned to accompany the father of her deceased husband (Luke Blanchard) on a trip to retrieve his young ward from the Loire valley, Elizabeth entrusts her with a letter to be personally delivered to Catherine, Queen of France. Never mind that Ursula is a young woman vulnerable to harm or that she's taken on a task that many find unsuitable for a lady. On her guard, she sets out for Paris to complete her mission. She soon realizes that the "protection" she's traveling with may not be on her side: the senior Blanchard's shifty behavior and suspicious guardians leave her feeling unsure whom she can trust. Adventure (and coincidence) abound, as she encounters her estranged second husband, Matthew de la Roche, who's at the forefront of the raging religious battle. Buckley's amusingly modern characters mesh successfully with the well-researched, though at times contrived, plot, and readers will be wrapped up in the 16th- century thrill of pitfalls lurking around every corner.