Tamsin has all the brashness of youth and the hallmarks that readers admire in a modernized heroine: she can ride, read, and ostensibly run a household were she given the chance. But her self-sufficiency is no match for the machinations of Sir Lionel, who takes control of her lands and wealth, and conspires to place Tamsin in the court of the young Princess Mary. Tamsin is told to “make myself pleasant. It was my duty to assure that everyone liked me.” And then she is to become indispensible, and to essentially use her position “to advance myself – and through me, Sir Lionel – at the Princess of Wales’s court.”
But neither Sir Lionel, Tamsin, nor Princess Mary can be prepared for the upheaval to come: the plotting of Anne Boleyn and King Henry. Tamsin, true to her mission, has become indispensible to the young princess, and she is quickly dispatched to repeat her ingratiation game in the Royal Court. There is more at stake than alliances and advancements. King Henry has a wandering eye, and is quickly besotted by Tamsin, and Tamsin, while playing her role, has a romantic attachment of her own: to a craftsman of no consequence, a silk maker named Rafe.
Kate Emerson’s tale is fiction, completely. The inspiration for this story comes from a real-life, sixteenth-century allusion to a damsel that King Henry had taken up with, much to Anne Boleyn’s consternation. The lady in question was mentioned in letters from a Spanish ambassador to King Henry’s court, but her identity was never unearthed. With such a scarcity of information, Emerson’s imagination has given us Tamsin Lodge, a child in an adult maze, a woman torn between loyalty and personal desires. Tamsin has a home she wishes to get back to, and her own dreams of simple life in which she is her own master.
There’s never a dearth of Tudor historical fiction books to keep you occupied; if that’s to your taste. You can easily find books told from the Boleyn side (The Other Boleyn Girl) or from Jane Seymour’s point of view (I, Jane to be released in September,) and even that of poor, divorced Catherine of Aragon (Katharine of Aragon.) The King’s Damsel is part of a series of novels Emerson has called “Secrets of the Tudor Court,” and it’s one of the rare books I’ve read that devotes much attention to the plight of poor Princess soon-to-be Queen Mary. She’s as much of an orphan as Tamsin, and as ever, these books leave you with the suffocating sense that to be a woman in these turbulent times was very much a precarious endeavor. Tamsin has the prospect of love, and a life free from the machinations of the Court. Princess Mary has no such promise in her future, and it is knowing Mary's future that lends Tamsin's attempts on her behalf such a gripping, futile air.
Melanie Murray is a writer and editor, and the moderator of Romantic Reads, BN.com's all-romance, all-the-time community forum. You can follow her on Twitter at @Melanie_Murray and get all the latest Barnes & Noble book news from @BNBuzz.
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