In 2014, I read the fascinating The Sisters of Treason by Elizabeth Fremantle, about the ill-fated Grey sisters, after which I was eager to read more of her work. It was earlier this year I got that chance when I received a copy of this, The Girl in the Glass Tower, Fremantle’s novel about the less well known Arbella Stuart, which was published just last year.
The Lady Arbella was the only child of Charles Stuart which made her, along with the Grey sisters, a possible contender for the English throne. Having been orphaned at a young age, Arbella is raised in comfort and privilege, with the very best education to prepare her to be queen, by her domineering maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Cavendish (better known as ‘Bess of Hardwick’). However her royal blood is more a curse than a gift for Arbella, as she is forced to live cloistered away from the world behind the towering glass windows of Hardwick Hall. If she ever wishes to break free she must learn to navigate a treacherous game of power, intrigue and danger.
History has largely forgotten poor Arbella and it would seem her contemporaries also wrote her off as cold, aloof and mad! So I think it is wonderful that Fremantle chose to showcase her in this book. Fremantle paints Arbella as a clever, strong-willed, but naïve woman, who actually has a lot of passion and love just no one to share it with. And there is little wonder she may have grown to be cold, aloof and mentally unstable, when she had no family or true friends to speak of other than her grandmother. Now while her grandmother may have cared for and protected Arbella, heartbreakingly it was more as an investment rather than she had any true love for her.
Again Fremantle has delivered a well-written and believable glimpse into the intrigue and danger of the Elizabethan and early Stuart period in English history. Through Arbella we see a life within a gilded cage – in fact, Fremantle brings it to life so well I was often left feeling claustrophobic and hopeless; as I’m sure poor Arbella did too. Cleverly Fremantle has balanced this feeling by having a second narrator Ami (based on a court poet and mistress), who looks back on her old friend Arbella’s life by lovingly reading through her papers; which were thoughtlessly discarded after her death. While Ami does have her own troubles and is racked with guilt over her friend’s sad end, I felt she does offer a more hopeful and healthier perspective.
Overall, I thought The Girl in the Glass Tower was another fascinating read, that really grabbed at my heartstrings and had me truly invested in the lives of Arbella and Ami. I can’t wait to read more by Elizabeth Fremantle and it just so happens I have her 2014 novel Queen’s Gambit, about Katherine Parr, on my bookshelf! Great read.
Thank you to the publishers for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.
Have you read this? Or anything else by Elizabeth Fremantle?
10 Books of Summer 2017 – 9/10