When I previewed The Virgin’s Daughter by Laura Andersen earlier this year, I mentioned that I had high hopes for the next book in this new spin-off series. The Virgin’s Spy—which will be available later this fall—mostly lives up to those hopes. Getting deeper into the ‘what if’s of her alternate history where Anne Boleyn produced a son for Henry VIII and Elizabeth I had a daughter with King Philip II of Spain, the political tensions over Ireland take center stage in this installment of a series building gradually to a promising conclusion.
Picking up a little over a year following the events of The Virgin’s Daughter, Lucette has married Julien and it is Dominic and Minuette’s oldest son, Stephen’s, turn to take the lead. Tasked with reinforcing English troops in Ireland fighting Catholic rebels, Stephen winds up making an enemy of an English commander, Oliver Dane, before escaping Ireland severely wounded. Following a long and difficult recovery, Stephen finds himself returning to Ireland—this time alone. Elsewhere, the revelations of mutual affection between Princess Anabel and her best friend Pippa’s twin brother, Kit—Dominic and Minuette’s two younger children—continue to complicate the process of finding Anabel a husband who will benefit all of England.
For about the first third of The Virgin’s Spy the pacing and plotting are a bit rough. Because in this novel of the series, the narrative focus shifts so drastically away from the characters that were established so strongly in The Virgin’s Daughter, it takes a while to recalibrate as a reader. Stephen’s initial Irish interlude is over quickly and exactly what’s going on can be a bit fuzzy—it might simply be a symptom of my own minimal understanding of Irish history—but the circumstances of his injuries lingers. His recovery is dealt with a little more quickly than I find believable and I would have liked to see that kind of trauma given more room to breathe and more weight within the plot—there are some time jumps that leave the novel’s early events feeling choppy—but as soon as he makes his decision to return, the narrative tightens nicely and the rest of the novel carries on brilliantly, hitting the subsequent emotional notes perfectly.
Personally, I can’t help comparing this series with the precursor Boleyn Trilogy. I think those books benefited from having a much clearer overarching conflict and fewer central characters. Each of those books’ were pretty equally balanced between Minuette, Dominic, Elizabeth, and William. That all-around balance is missing in this series focused on the next generation where each of the Courtenay children seems to be getting a turn at having a novel largely to himself/herself. My final opinion on this structure will ultimately depend on the final installment(s) in the series.
One of the things I love about this alternate universe Laura Andersen has created and the stories she’s developed from it are the amazing female characters that drive everything. Though I was missing Lucette—having already spent most of The Virgin’s Daughter with her at the center of the narrative, it was odd to only catch glimpses of her mostly on the sidelines—the ladies of Clan Kavanaugh are their own force to be reckoned with and at least keep a gender balance throughout—once I was able to discern who was who and just what was going on in Ireland.
I leave The Virgin’s Spy much as I did The Virgin’s Daughter—with high expectations for the next book in the series and a growing sense of what this spin-off series is building towards overall. The hints of what’s to come promise just as much emotional turmoil as The Boleyn Reckoning delivered and I can’t wait.
The Virgin’s Spy will be available November 10, 2015.