Review: Mary, Queen of Scots

Mary, Queen of Scots: Queen Without a Country, France, 1553 (The Royal Diaries)Mary, Queen of Scots
by Kathryn Lasky

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mary, Queen of Scots / 0-439-19404-0

This Royal Diary is, in many ways, one of the most touching entries in the series. Mary, the young Queen of Scotland, has been living in France, in a sort of 'pleasant' exile, far from her home, her country, and her loving mother. Bright, cheerful, and healthy, she frets for her young fiance, a sickly boy who she has come to regard as a friend, if not necessarily the most desirable of suitors. Though she is a Queen, she is without a court beyond her four dearest friends (all also named 'Mary'), and she has no power within the vicious court of Queen Catherine de Medici, whose consorting with sorcerers and facility with poisons covers the court with a dark cloud of fear and suspicion.

Though I knew little of Mary before delving into this diary, outside of her unfortunately short life and unenviable demise, I found her fictional representation to be immediately and intensely likable. Though she tries hard to be regal and to keep a good-temperament, Mary understandably mourns for the loss of her mother and country, wishing that her exile could be over, or at least temporarily suspended. She handles herself with verve and determination, standing up to rude ladies-in-waiting, outwitting the conniving Queen Catherine, and valiantly standing up for one of her 'dear Marys', when the young woman is inappropriately and forcibly pursued by their music instructor. This part of the novel, in particular, is very powerful, as Mary explores her frustration with people who refuse to believe a girl when she is being molested, and with the necessity of catching the culprit publicly in order to have him dismissed from court. The young woman who seeks to avoid these attacks stays silent out of fear, but learns that trusting her friends and loved ones with the horrible truth lifts a weight from her shoulders and allows them to save her, a lesson that all parents will want to teach their children - that if someone is trying to hurt you, it is always the best, safest thing to tell someone you trust.

Factually, "Mary, Queen of Scots" is slightly more problematic. Lasky presents Nostradamus (one of the Queen's sorcerers) in a more favorable light than is probably technically correct - making him into a sort of lovable savior who rescues Mary from death and seems wholly unmotivated by the money the Queen lavished upon him. It would, I think, have been more beneficial to have dealt a bit more fairly with such a controversial historical figure, rather than the wholly one-sided view we see here. On the other hand, Lasky is surprisingly gentle with Queen Catherine, depicting Mary as struggling mightily with the "sin" of her distaste for the woman, deciding that it is just the fact that they are two queens under one roof that is the problem, as opposed to - for example - the Queen's rumored propensity for poison and murder.

All of which to say, definitely pick up "Mary, Queen of Scots" for an engaging read and an interesting dip into this fascinating character and the history surrounding her, but I would definitely recommend expanding your research into something a bit more historically factual after first whetting your appetite with this novel.

~ Ana Mardoll

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