The year is 1569. Ursula Blanchard, illegitimate half sister to Queen Elizabeth I and sometime spy on the Queen's behalf, is happily married to wealthy Hugh Stannard and living quietly in the country. Ursula's thoughts are on domestic matters as she watches her daughter, Meg, grow up. Meg will soon be fourteen, so perhaps it is time to think of a betrothal.
When an invitation to visit arrives from the powerful Duke of Norfolk, Ursula and Hugh welcome the chance for Meg to meet an apparently worthy young man of the Duke's household, Edmund Dean. Is he a possible husband for Meg?
It's love at first sight, at least on Meg's part. Young Dean seems to admire Meg as well, and he's even more impressed with her promised dowry. Ursula, though, has her doubts. Does she see something cruel in the man's eyes?
Soon, more weighty matters demand Ursula's attention. Two men are dead under mysterious circumstances, and there may be a new plot to put Mary, Queen of Scots, on the English throne. A letter written in cipher may contain the information Ursula needs -- but can she decode the letter in time to save the half sister and Queen she loves? And what shattering personal discovery will the letter reveal?
Surrounded by treachery, Ursula wonders whom she can trust. Is the great Duke of Norfolk himself part of the plot against Queen Elizabeth? And what about the young man who would marry Meg?
With richly drawn characters and riveting historical accuracy, The Siren Queen sweeps us into a suspenseful and passionate re-creation of one of the most tumultuous and colorful eras of English history.
British author Buckley's excellent eighth Ursula Blanchard novel offers fine writing and deft plotting while vividly bringing the past to life. Where earlier volumes used historical mysteries that have sparked heated debate over the centuries, such as the sudden death of Lord Darnley, the husband of Mary, Queen of Scots, in 2003's The Fugitive Queen, this latest focuses on now obscure political intrigue involving an Italian banker, Roberto Ridolfi, in 1568. With threats to Elizabeth's throne looming, Blanchard, the queen's half-sister and occasional spy, uncovers suspicious correspondence pointing to a scheme to place Mary on the English throne. After the courier charged with delivering those messages turns up dead and a second murder soon follows, Blanchard, her husband and her loyal retinue seek evidence of motive and opportunity while alerting the beleaguered secretary of state, Lord Cecil, to the plot and working to forestall it. Experienced whodunit readers may identify the culprit more easily than they'd like, but the author's rare ability to effortlessly integrate fact and fiction and the cliffhanger ending will leave both old and new fans eagerly awaiting the next installment. FYI:Buckley is the pseudonym of Valerie Anand.