A lot of historical novels have been written about Shakespeare and his Globe theatre, but not too many have been written about his friend and rival Christopher Marlowe and his Rose theatre, so The Secret of the Rose is a slightly unusual look at theatre life in Elizabethan times. The story follows Rosalind Archer, a country girl who has to make a life for herself in London after her father is imprisoned and the family loses all its money. Taken in by the famous playwright, Rosalind (disguised as a boy and now known as Richard) struggles to hide a dangerous secret from her master, who has some dangerous secrets of his own.
The Secret of the Rose will work for readers on a couple of levels. Those who aren't familiar with the time period and its political intrigue will still enjoy a fairly suspenseful story, while those who are will enjoy putting together the clues and references, which aren't always spelled out for them (Rosalind/Richard doesn't understand all of what's going on, but with the hindsight of history, we do). While Rosalind's fear of persecution and corresponding distrust of everyone come through loud and clear, the cause of her persecution (her religion) isn't emphasized as strongly as in another novel I've recently reviewed, Ann Turnbull's No Shame, No Fear, but readers will still get the picture that Elizabethan England was a very hostile place to those who were different (and an emotionally wrenching episode involving Dutch immigrants will underline this). Full of interesting ideas (including a teensy bit of romance) and suspenseful enough to hold readers' interest, The Secret of the Rose is a recommended read.