by Jennifer McGowan
Series: Maids of Honor #1
Published by: Simon and Schuster
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Purchase: Amazon | Audible
In this breathtaking start to a series, a secret society of young women make up Elizabeth I’s most trusted royal guard. God Save the Queen—or the Maids will. Orphan Meg Fellowes makes her living picking pockets—until she steals from the wrong nobleman. Instead of rotting in prison like she expected, she’s whisked away to the court of Queen Elizabeth and pressed into royal service, where she joins four other remarkable girls in the Maids of Honor, the Queen’s secret society of protectors. Meg’s natural abilities as a spy prove useful in this time of unrest. The Spanish Court is visiting, and with them come devious plots and hidden political motives. As threats to the kingdom begin to mount, Meg can’t deny her growing attraction to one of the dashing Spanish courtiers. But it’s hard to trust her heart in a place where royal formalities and masked balls hide the truth: Not everyone is who they appear to be. With danger lurking around every corner, can she stay alive—and protect the crown?
I have always been intrigued by Elizabeth’s court and her maids of honor and ladies in waiting. Mix in spies, orphans, intrigued and suspense and I could not wait to start Maid of Secrets the first book in Jennifer McGowan’s Maid of Honor series. I quickly became swept up in this exciting tale with its fleshed out characters.
The tale begins as we meet Meg Fellowes an orphan working with a performing traveling troupe. As the crowd gathers, she moves through the crowd picking pockets. Yes, Meg is a thief, a master at changing her look and quite good at it. When she picks the pocket of one of the Queen’s men, she finds her life forever changed as she is taken to the tower. Here she is given the choice of working for the royal service or rotting in a prison. She chooses to join the royal service where she meets four gifted girls also working as Maids of Honor; the Queen’s secret protectors. The tale that unfolds is filled with suspense, intrigue, politics and a little romance. Watching Meg navigate the shark-infested waters of the Elizabethan court kept me intrigued.
When we first meet Meg, she is confident and sure of herself and ambitious to improve her places within the traveling troupe, she is also very protective of them. I really took a liking to Meg, she is bright, intuitive, and despite obstacles, she does not whine and looks for ways to improve her position. The Queen accuses her of not knowing who she is and watching Meg transform and find herself was fascinating. The other maids of honor are Beatrice, Jane, Sophia, and Anna. They have unique personalities, and desires. They nickname Meg the “rat” and she finds herself without friends. Slowly they become friends and watching all of the bickering, backstabbing and jockeying for position within the court had me both giggling and annoyed. Meg refers to them as; The Seer, The Scholar, the Belle and the Blade. The queen’s men in charge of the maids Cecil and Walsingham like their positions and manipulate the girls. I loathed them and also questioned their loyalties which kept things suspenseful. Rafe is smexy and a courtier to the Spanish court. The interaction between Rafe and Meg was exciting. Their banter and the complicated tango they danced felt genuine. From the beginning, there is an attraction but Meg is set to spy on him and ooh-la-la I loved the thread they shared. Elizabeth was portrayed as strong, intelligent and suspicious. The men think her a fool because she is a woman, but I think they are sadly mistaken.
The setting and time period is a fascinating one. Elizabeth has recently come to the throne, declared the official church to be Protestant and refused Philip II’s marriage proposal. As a result, the political climate is in unrest, as the Spanish, Scottish and French governments maneuver to secure their own best interests. McGowan did a lovely job of explaining the court and describing both the castle and the people as it all came to life for me. Spies, pranks, and mischief all played out in the queen’s court and as a result, spies were needed to watch both visitors and members of the royal court. This made Meg and the other maid of honor’s roles vital. I found the whole cat and mouse game delightful. Meg and the girls were fascinating and I enjoyed how each girl’s strength was utilized. The girls spied for the queen, on the queen and spied to protect themselves. It was dizzying and kept me enthralled. The pace at times slowed, but everything was vital in both character and plot development. The romance was not the main focus but added drama and felt genuine. I am hoping we see them interact again in the next book. The intense moments made the slower moments worth it and in the end, I was well satisfied with this first book in the series.
I recommend Maid of Secrets to fans of historical fiction, spies, political climates and intrigue. The next book Maid of Deception will release in 2014 and no additional information is available at the time this review was written.
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