This novel offers a fresh take on a time period and characters that have been written about frequently. Queen Katherine Howard finally is given human motivations and dilemmas, instead of being painted as calculating and manipulative as history would have you believe. This story, in many ways, is written in defense of her, not necessarily condoning her decisions, but making them relatable. Additionally, Eliza, an entirely fictional character and the main protagonist, has a feisty spirit and a compelling view of the world around her. Though Eliza and the other maids function primarily for men’s pleasure, Worsley does not make the ladies weak or doting. It is for this reason that the novel manages to have contemporary appeal.
With that being said, the most compelling story arc is the forbidden relationship between Ned Barsby, the King’s page, and Eliza. However, often this budding romance takes a backseat to what is transpiring with the King and what is happening in court. In fact, the ending of the novel, which is the payoff I was waiting for the entire time, feels very rushed and unsatisfying. Personally, I would have loved the middle of the story to be shortened and then the plot extended to see how Eliza lives with the consequences of her actions. It seems as though the historical events are prioritized over the fictional elements, while the latter is the most intriguing part!
Overall, the novel definitely makes me reflect upon gender politics and what has both changed and stayed the same. It is always an extra bonus when a book is more than just entertainment, but also thought-provoking at the same time. MAID OF THE KING’S COURT is a coming of age story, but will appeal to an adult audience as well due to mature subjects.