A despotic flying bear ruling over the decrepit remains of a city. A shape-shifting creature of unknown origin that can have multiple eyes; flatten itself along walls and picks up ideas and language like a toddler growing up in a hyper fast time lapse. Added to the mix is a scavenger named Rachel who ventures out into the city to bring back scraps of food and biotech to her lover and survival partner Wick to create material that can help fortify and hide their home, the Balcony Cliffs, from all around them. Their enemies include the flying bear Mord, the forces of the mysterious Magician who controls parts of the city, and other scavengers. To say that the city is unforgiving and difficult to live in would be an understatement. Rachel and Wick live in a constant state of alert and with good reason; one wrong move and any one of their enemies could attack.
Mord is the creation of The Company, a sprawling business that created new species and creatures out of biotech and released them into the city to see how they would fare. Mord was The Company’s biggest project, and its biggest failure. As it lost control over the giant bear after granting it the power of flight, The Company fell into disarray and its employees scattered or eventually became Mord’s lunch. Wick was one such former employee but refuses to share what he did at The Company with Rachel, straining their relationship as she occasionally snoops in his room for answers.
Against this backdrop of uneasy alliances, constant threats, and secrets, enters the titular character: Borne. Rachel originally finds Borne “clinging to Mord’s fur like a half-closed sea anemone” emitting a smell of a wave, the brine in the air causing her to think that were no “mutilated, burned bodies dangling from broken streetlamps” around her. Intrigued by the find she brings it home and refuses to let Wick break it down into parts that he could use to build more biotech. Borne quickly becomes more than salvage to Rachel; establishing himself as a creature of untold intelligence and possibility. When he reveals he can talk Rachel takes it upon herself to teach him as much as she knows, kicking off a strange mother-creature relationship that becomes the book’s main focal point. As she becomes increasingly attached to Borne, her relationship with Wick, who looks upon the new member of their family with suspicion, grows strained as they continue to work together to make Balcony Cliffs safe from the outside world.
After having devoured VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy where Annihilation lured me into the mystery of Area X, I was expecting a similar sort of dense narrative to wade through. Where the Southern Reach explored the relationship between the natural world and humans, an alien form of nature establishing a pristine unlived area where a coastal town once used to be, Borne grounds itself in its gritty urban setting where nature has been altered and mutilated by humanity’s unthinking and unabashed tinkering with it. Despite the terrible conditions the characters find themselves in, Borne is ultimately a book about triumphing over one’s own demons, what it means to be a family, and hope.
Borne, amorphous and inquisitive, endears himself to the reader with his child-like behaviour and constant questioning. Borne is, for a lack of a better term, a new born, and his views on the city breathe fresh life into Rachel’s stale and bleak outlook. In a memorable moment she takes Borne to the balcony of their home and shows him the city with its crumbling buildings and polluted river below. Gazing at the river Borne declares it “beautiful” and Rachel begins looking at it from a new perspective. As Rachel’s bond with Borne deepens, her desire to protect him from the horrors of the world clash with reality as the impossibility of that desire is constantly reinforced by attacks from feral Mord proxies and genetically altered children.
Featured on many summer reading lists by publications such as The Washington Post and receiving rave reviews from The New York Times and The Guardian, Borne is a testament to VanderMeer’s inventiveness and above all his ability to write realistic scenes of human interaction (even if that interaction is with a sentient glob) making it an incredibly emotional and evocative narrative, establishing VanderMeer as an expert in world building and writing.
In Borne there will be a final battle, secrets about The Company will be revealed and more importantly, secrets about Rachel’s own life, making it ideal summer reading; a fantastic adventure story that is incredibly inventive and incredibly human in its outlook.
We know the drill, summer comes around and you start scouring bookshelves for new series to read. Luckily for you, The Last Word has picked out some of the hottest YA series to help you spend your summer!
Hailing from a family of time travelers, Etta Spencer gets thrown into an unfamiliar world where she meets Nicholas Carter who is tasked with delivering Etta to the dangerous and powerful Ironwood family. As they progress with their quest of finding the stolen object that the Ironwood family desperately desires, they discover exciting new places and find themselves amidst revolutionary wars, WWII London, 17th century Cambodia, 19th century Paris and medieval Damascus. The perilous journey brings the two closer and as they fit the puzzles of the stolen object across time and space, they face treacherous forces that threaten to separate her from Nicholas and her home.
Books in the series: Passenger, Wayfarer
The Bone Season trilogy
Paige Mahoney, a 19 year old girl in central London has a secret; she has a special talent for dream-walking and is one of the seven seals, a motley crew of people with supernatural powers. Set in 2059 in a parallel England, the story narrates the clash between the ruling Scion republic and the clairvoyant individuals perceived to be a threat to order. Supernatural powers will get her in trouble and the Scion regime is savage in its treatment of the ‘unnaturals’. When she gets imprisoned by the Scion guards, she discovers a monstrous lie her world has been living.
Books in this series: The Bone Season, The Mime Order, The Song Rising
Six of Crows duology
This fantasy duology follows a criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker who is promised a large sum of wealth in exchange for a seemingly impossible heist. In his effort to get the job done, he gets six of the deadliest outcasts in the city who together, are the last force that stands between the world and destruction.
Books in this series: Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom
The Red Queen trilogy
The world of Victoria Aveyard is divided along the lines of blood; red and silver. The sequel follows the life of Bare Marrow, a 17 year old Red blooded commoner with a destructive magical power who threatens the writ and hold of the Silver regime. Living in the Silver Palace as a long lost Silver princess, she enters a game of betrayal, lies and revolution.
Books in this series: Red Queen, Glass Sword, King’s Cage
Lady Helen Series
The Dark Days series is based on Lady Helen who steps into Regency Society to find herself a husband. Instead, she enters the shadowy world of demonic creatures and deadly powers. Helen has a destiny beyond the ballroom; a sacred duty to protect humanity. Duchess or demon slayer – does Lady Helen have a choice?
Books in this series: The Dark Days Club, The Dark Days Pact
Witty, engaging, and informative, the latest collection of international children’s literature at The Last Word promises to send your child zooming off across time and space.
The Sleeping Baobab Tree – Paula Leyden
Age range: 9+
Bul-boo thinks that Fred’s great grandmother is a witch, and when she decides to take Fred and his two friends on a trip to The Place of Death or Ng’ombe Ilede, his worst fears are confirmed. Prepare to travel into the heart of Zambia on a journey unlike any other. Join Fred, Bul-boo and Madillo as they attempt to discover the reason for the sudden and strange disappearances of the patients at Bul-boo’s mother’s AIDS clinic. With all the promise of an adventure story, Leyden takes her readers into the unfamiliar terrain and introduces them to the culture of Africa. The Sleeping Baobab Tree is a refreshing break from the more popular trope of Western literature, and is an important read for children who wish to travel while staying snuggled up on their armchair at home.
A Jar of Pickles and a Pinch of Justice – Chitra Soundar
Age Range: 7+
Join Prince Veera and his friend Suku, as together they set out to settle the problems faced by King Bheema’s court. Tinged with the flavor of India, A Jar of Pickles and a Pinch of Justice, is a short yet informative read of which every story has a moral. Whether reading about a greedy group of pickle-swapping, crow-culling, revenge-seeking crooks or a jealous potter, prepare to be blown away by this fun, culturally rich book.
The Whistling Monster: stories from around the world – Jamila Gavin
Age range: 7+
All over the world children love hearing stories, and though these stories differ from place to place, their crux remains the same. Whether from Brazil or Botswana, Finland or India, these stories center around the themes of good versus evil, bravery, wisdom and nature to name a few. Though these tales have been retold many times they have stood the test of time. Revisit the classic story of Puss in Boots, and learn about the reasons behind the Mexican ritual of praying to the Corn Maidens every harvest, as you travel the world one story at a time.
The Parent Trap – Erich Kästner
Age range: 9+
While everyone knows about the movie The Parent Trap starring Lindsey Lohan, not many have read the book which formed its basis. Set in Germany and Austria, The Parent Trap is an innovative and realistic twist on the classic trope of swapped identities. Split up since their parent’s divorce, Lottie and Luise meet for the first time at summer camp. Join the sisters as they move from hating each other to being inseparable. But their greatest challenge of all still awaits them— will they be able to bring their estranged parents back together? A warm, heartfelt book about the importance of family, Kästner’s classic tale is sure to delight children of all ages.
Little Prince: An Epic Tale from Ancient Iraq – Kathy Henderson
Age range: 7+
Welcome to the oldest written story in the world— older even than Greek and Roman myths. Lost for four thousand years, this story, which was originally scratched out on lumps of clay, follows the story of Lugalbanda, the little prince who got caught up in a war and grew up to be one of the great kings of Uruk and Sumer. A perfect introduction to historic times, this book is ideal for young children eager to learn about the past and its connection to the present. Not only will this book transport readers to another place, but it will serve as a bridge across time as well.
It’s proved to be difficult quieting my thoughts to write this review. Kunzru’s satirical novel about two young, starkly Caucasian music aficionados with a fetish for rare records turned out to be more affecting than I anticipated.
Seth and Carter embody a friendship of expediency reminiscent of the Gatsby Gatsby. The latter has the means to satisfy his every whim, and the former gets to mooch off him it in exchange for his minor talents and his unquestioning loyalty.
Carter is the beleaguered soul who yearns for intensity which he insists can only be found in Black music. His wealthy family- who are strangers to the pain and suffering he touristically seeks- warily fund his expensive appetite for rare pre-war blues records, and the inevitable tirade in glamourous surroundings when he loses out on a rare find.
Kunzru has no patience with the trust-funder’s empty quest for authenticity – a full-time occupation of the hipster generation-and to the reader’s relief lands him in a coma following an incident involving a failed attempt at another acquisition.
Seth attributes Carters tragic misfortune to a curious chain of events stemming from a surreptitious recording of a vagrant singing a mysterious blues tune, which Carter sets to a guitar riff, adds effects and attempts to pass off online as a recently discovered lost recording by a made up ‘Charlie Shaw’.
Prior to the incident the recording draws the attention of an elderly collector who meets with Seth and warns of its sinister power. Unconvinced by Seth’s insistence that Charlie Shaw was a fiction concocted by his friend, the collector attributes his own friend Chester’s demise to the the record’s ominous power.
Now spooked by Carter’s fate, Seth embarks on a road trip to trace the provenance of the record and rid himself of any lingering malevolence. His journey switches between that of Chester’s in 1959 as they both head deep into the south drawn by something to do with Charlie.
The object of fascination throughout the book has been black music, and up until this point it has been offered, withheld, traded and consumed by talentless white men who function as the self-appointed gatekeepers of cool.
The readers discover’s how Chester brutally snatches the sole recording from Charlie’s sister’s home in 1959, manically insisting it was an “act of preservation”- the foundational belief for almost every museum collection in the west. This perennial white privilege is in full effect when Carter withholds “our music” from a musician, having done nothing more than amass a secret stash of hyper rarities from the 70’s, to equate ownership in his mind.
This entitlement is emblematic of the tone deaf nature of gentrification where incidents of disruption to black culture e.g. complains of “noise” by new white homeowners made against old time resident musicians or block parties, have increasingly plagued the original inhabitants.
The claim to non-white culture, disrespect, and indifferent to the conditions of its creation and ultimately the fate of the artist, is what finally awakens the wrath of Charlie Shaw, who bedevils Carter, Chester and finally Seth like a Djinn.
Although we hear of Carter and Chester’s fate, with Seth we witness the relentless torment which leads to his ultimate demise. How Charlie, knowing no bounds, weaves through time and space in hot pursuit of Seth, and how Seth after a number of outer body experiences learns what it means to have ‘skin’ in the game. Seth’s eventual release from this torment comes when he ends his own complicity through a violent and earth-shattering act.
Kunzru’s White Tears is a tour de force. Suspenseful, harrowing and bristling with anger. Some went so far as to call it a revenge fantasy, I, however, could reconcile myself with the horror in the way I would a fairy tale. I was deeply affected by the historic crimes against a community and the undercurrent of racism that fuels the powerful compounding and even institutionalisation of cruelty, but when just deserts are eventually served it helped restore my equilibrium. That I should derive so much joy from this book should give a whole lot of white people pause for thought.
Bored of fantasy series and craving some excellent realistic fiction this summer? Then Osama has the perfect recommendations for you with The Last Word’s top five YA picks for June!
Holding Up the Universe – Jennifer Niven
Age Range 14-17
Holding Up the Universe is about seeing and being seen and taps into the universal need to understood, loved and wanted. Libby Strout experiences fat shaming and struggles to find her place in high school where people are unable to look past her weight. Jack Masselin is a typical high school jock; popular and too cool for school and has a newly acquired secret that keeps him from getting too close to anyone. When the two get tangled up in a cruel high school game – which lands them in group counseling and community service, they discover that sometimes when you meet someone, the whole universe just comes into focus.
A Quiet Kind of Thunder – Sara Barnard
Age Range 12-15
A Quiet Kind of Thunder is a moving story of a girl, a boy, and voices unheard. Steffi is selectively mute, but she has so much to say. Rhys is deaf, but he understands her perfectly. Their experiences transcend language. It presents Steffi’s journey through her first year of sixth form as she navigates her disability, adolescence and family dynamics, and her budding relationship with Rhys to find her voice and place. With a protagonist who has selective mutism and a love interest that is deaf, the story narrates the difficulty in coping from anxiety and losses people with impairment face and the little victories they achieve in a world where worst-case scenarios are on an endless loop in one’s head.
The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
Age Range 14-17
The New York Times bestselling novel The Hate U Give is inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and involves the police shooting of an unarmed black teen. 16 year old Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil and has to testify in front of the grand jury. What follows is the chaos that closely resonates with the hysteria, insecurity and violence people of color feel in their engagement with the law. As Starr negotiates the dichotomy between her predominately white upper middle class school and the stereotyping of her neighborhood as a ‘ghetto’h, er experiences with gang fighting and racial discrimination taps fully into the shock, pain and outrage black teens experience in the US today and highlights their role in combating and exposing the deeply entrenched prejudice.
The Bombs That Brought Us Together – Brian Conaghan
Age range 12-16
14 year old Charlie finds himself situated in a conflict between Old Country and his home the Little Town. Citizens of the Little Town aren’t expected to befriend sworn enemies from Old Country, but when Pavel, a refugee from Old Country relocates to Charlie’s neighborhood, a relationship of mutual respect and dignity develops, challenging notions of identities and differences. ‘The Bombs That Brought Us Together’ offers a remarkable insight inside the lives of individuals impacted by war. Conflict silences individual stories and voices. Names become numbers. And in that context, Brian Conaghan narrates a dark, powerful tale of survival, morality and loyalty involving two teenagers who are able to look past labels and identity markers imposed by an ‘accident of birth’ that places them on opposite sides of an arbitrarily decided international border.
A Tragic Kind of Wonderful – Eric Lindstrom
Age Range 14 -18
A Tragic Kind of Wonderful is a story about internal fears and insecurities that confine individuals to their shells. Mel Hannigan struggles to keep several things under wraps: Her bipolar disorder, death of her brother and distance with her best friends. But when she comes across someone new, she learns to find comfort in her own skin and challenge fears that inhibit her from exposing her true self. A Tragic Kind of Wonderful is a beautiful, captivating story about living with mental illness, and loving – even with a broken heart.
I was a pudgy little girl with pigtails lining either side of my face and a flair for the dramatic when I first met the red-headed and fiery Anne (spelled with an ‘e’) Shirley. It wasn’t long before we became the best of friends— it was evident from the start that we were “kindred spirits”. And while over the years friends have come and gone, Anne has stayed. There is, of course, the slight problem of her being a mere creation of pen and paper, but in a friendship like ours that is only a minor inconvenience.
Anne was first introduced to the world in 1908, when after subsequent rejections of Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maude Montgomery decided to try and get it published one last time. While many know of Anne’s escapades and adventures, not many know the story of the woman responsible for her existence. Like Anne, Montgomery grew up in a house where she was the only child living with an elderly couple. In an attempt to seek understanding where she found none she took to her pen and wrote voraciously.
Although perhaps her best-known series, Anne of Green Gables is in no way the only thing written by L.M. Montgomery. Her trilogy, Emily of New Moon, chronicles the misadventures of young Emily Starr, orphaned and sent off to live with her strict and rigid relatives. Despite this she maintains a positive attitude and channels her energy into her writing, much like Montgomery herself.
Although Montgomery’s writing is characterized by a pervading sense of hope, her own life was rather bleak. Her mother died when she was a young child and the following years of her life were defined by her estrangement from her father. This fragmented idea of the nuclear family permeates her writing, countered by her belief that family is not just made up of blood relations but of people who together create a home.
With characters like Anne and Emily, Montgomery has brightened the realm of children’s literature. Despite her troubled personal life characterized by her marriage and the death of her infant child, her books shine like a beacon of hope to young children struggling to define themselves.
My friendship with Anne, and later with Emily, characterized my childhood. I had always wanted glamour to be a permanent fixture of my life. Yet, as I got to know Anne, and consequently L.M. Montgomery, better I slowly learned that even the most ordinary of things can be made extraordinary if one has “scope for the imagination”. Most importantly however, I discovered that “kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think.”
By the end of the day, when all your work is nearly done, there’s nothing better than settling down with your child and a good book guaranteed to help you both unwind after a long tiring day. The Last Word has you covered with this collection of bedtime stories sure to lull your young ones to a nice, deep sleep— and maybe even you too!
The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep – Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin
Age range: 3-7 years
Specially designed to help children fall asleep easier, The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep follows the adventures of Roger Rabbit who just cannot fall asleep as quickly as he would like. Children and adults alike are sure to enjoy his visit to Uncle Yawn, and his chance encounter with the Sleepy Snail, both of whom have a valuable piece of sleepy-time advice to share with the reader— and, of course, Roger Rabbit!
Cloudland – John Burningham
Age range: 3-7 years
While hurrying home from a hike in the mountains something terrible happens to Albert— he falls off the mountain! But, don’t worry, this story does have a happy ending, for Albert’s fall is broken by a cloud, leading him to discover the fantastical Cloudland. An imaginative spin on the phrase ‘the sky is the limit’, Cloudland is a soothing story to read to your child at bedtime, teaching them that even when amongst the stars and clouds there really is no place quite like home.
Knight Night – Owen Davey
Age range: 2-5 years
At the end of the day every knight must face the greatest adventure of all— getting ready for bed. This picture book is perfect for children who view bedtime as at its best, an ordeal they must endure each day. With its marvelous illustrations, Knight Night transforms the nightly process of getting your child into bed into a gallant and noble quest that only the very best knights can complete.
Go to Sleep or I Let Loose the Leopard – Steve Cole and Bruce Ingman
Age range: 3-5 years
When Joe and Ellie refuse to sleep the New Babysitter has no choice but to coerce them with what seem to be far-fetched threats. After all, which babysitter comes equipped with a leopard, toy-munching monster and special robot to zap her young charges to sleep? But the New Babysitter is no ordinary woman as Joe and Ellie, much to their surprise, soon find out. A comic appeal to children to sleep when they’re told to, Go to Sleep or I Let Loose the Leopard is the perfect book to read to your child as you get them ready for bed.
Interrupting Chicken – David Ezra Stein
Age range: 4-8 years
When the precocious little red chicken wants to hear a bedtime story before sleeping, Papa is wary as his daughter has a habit of interrupting the story and getting so excited she cannot sleep. Will the little red chicken ever go to sleep? Find out in this witty testament to over-active children and their tired parents as bedtime approaches.
The cover attracted me as soon as we unpacked it, bright red with a hand-drawn black hand and silver vein-like tendrils tracing its outline. It seemed to embody Margaret Atwood’s declaration of “Electrifying!” and “Shocking!”
Shortlisted for the Bailey-Gifford Prize, the title refers to teenage girls suddenly finding themselves imbued with a strange electrical power they are unable to control that electrocutes those around them. The girls can awaken this power in older women, establishing the first hint of global sisterhood that other characters will eventually espouse. As each woman tests her limits they begin banding together, inciting mass rebellions in Riyadh and Delhi, breaking free from human trafficking and, in some cases, becoming rulers of entire countries, each woman fending for herself at times in extremely violent ways. The story follows four central characters: Allie, an abused foster child in America who reinvents herself as a religious figure named Mother Eve; Roxy, a powerful daughter of a London crime family; Margot, an ambitious American politician; and Tunde, a Nigerian journalist who was one of the first people to observe the power and made a name for himself as being one of the few men involved in these women-centric upheavals.
The world occupied by these characters is one that is incredibly similar to ours, the girls’ electrocution powers are at first the only difference present. However, as women worldwide begin to hone their skills, men become increasingly irate about the changing status quo, forming their own guerrilla groups aimed at protecting men from the tyranny of women (employing rhetoric not unlike the Men’s Rights Activists one finds on the internet today). A porn industry evolves around the use of the power while drugs are developed to enhance it. Men are advised not to wander alone at night or without a female guardian- a sentiment which evoked much schadenfreude as I read. To see real-life limitations on women turned on their head and applied to men underscores the ridiculous emphasis placed on what one must do to protect oneself from members of the opposite sex. As the book progresses men are deemed too emotional for their own good and unable to take care of themselves, and women begin to assert themselves as the ones to deal with directly.
A clever framing device in the novel shows the ‘present’ as an actual post-apocalyptic future where female superiority is unquestioned. A male author writing the story of Allie and company breaks the fourth wall to seek guidance from ‘Naomi Alderman’, his friend and celebrated author. Naomi guides him on how to make his book more palatable for what will be his predominantly female readership, supplying him with friendly advice that is again reminiscent of what women today hear.
Alderman’s work comprises of women from all walks of life, without coming across contrived. This is no small feat as the book subverts every conceivable gender norm, rewrites history, and reinvents the world as we know it in one of the most effortless ways I have seen in a while. The novel thus becomes historically and geographically global as the characters, fictional and real travel to countries, which are enchantingly depicted.
The Power is a roller coaster of a book. Some parts had me punching the air in triumph while at others my chest constricted so much that I was ready to yell at anyone who interrupted my reading. The last time this happened, I was eleven and Lyra was about to be severed from Pan in The Golden Compass.
This book bears the mark of all excellent speculative fiction by making you question everything about the world you live in, irrespective of your gender. Asking fundamental questions of what it means when a marginalized group is suddenly endowed with a mysterious power and what one would do in that situation, The Power is a book I would highly recommend to anyone and everyone looking for an excellent dystopia novel that shatters everything you think you know.
Forget everything you think you know about gun violence and pick up Another Day in the Death of America. Whilst we are regularly assaulted with mass shootings emanating out of the United States we are rarely pushed to discover the origins of the violence. The second amendment is the explanation we most readily reach for, but to rely on that solely is to avoid the cruel truths underpinning society in the United States.
My entry into Lahore came in the wake of a brutal shooting in the house I now live in and if you wrack your brain, you or someone you know would have been affected by gun violence too. To some degree we have a separate set of conditions underpinning our reality, but it’s still a phenomenon that deserves a lot more attention.
So what is the true cost to society if guns become an accepted reality? Gary Younge’s meticulously researched Another Day in the Death of America takes us through the deaths of ten children and young teens during one calendar day. He combs through public records, newspaper reports and social media to build a profile of the victim which come to life through interviews with those they leave behind. Each chapter bears the name of the victim, and where they live. As you read on you realise the location has as much to do with their death as the firearm itself. Some communities are in shock after the violent death; some respond with grief stricken resignation, some are torn apart, whilst others move on under a heaving cloud of denial and trauma. In almost all cases, the reactions relate directly to the likelihood of such an event in that place.
Racism, poverty, lack of jobs and infrastructure, mental health, parenting, and teenage recklessness each end up in the dock compounding the risks of preserving the 2nd Amendment. The incidence of gun deaths involving poor kids from the black community are the most harrowing as Younge establishes their relationship to racist policy, governmental neglect and an entire populations apathy. A relationship, he reveals, as evident to policy makers for decades now.
Reading how residents learned to tune out the sound of gun fire to go about their daily lives brings tears to your eyes. By the end of the book I found it almost unfathomable that American exceptionalism can exist alongside such inhumanity; that parents were forcing their kids to internalise ordinary teenage behaviour for fear of deadly consequences; and that an entire nation was hostage to the NRA who won’t allow enforcement of a minimum of protections for those most vulnerable to gun violence.
The British Royal family seems to be the focus of all sorts of media nowadays. From the young Princess Charlotte’s pictures to the Queen’s birthday, everything makes headlines. But we have another kind of treat in store for you – the new biography of the first Queen Elizabeth – first of her name and queen of all Englishmen. John Guy’s preface to his new book is enough to reel in even the most reluctant of readers – he tells us of his personal experience in researching the book and treading paths in Elizabethan history that previous biographers had ignored. The best part, however, is his description of the archival material he came upon all over Europe – from England to the Iberian Peninsula – some letters in the Queen’s own hand too. His excitement at his discoveries is palpable and very contagious too, for what’s better to read than a book written with such enthusiasm?
Guy focuses on the Queen’s later years, because the earlier, more personally glamorous ones have been written about at length and have also been the subject of plenty of movies. The later years, of an ageing, obstinate queen, with military ambitions and annoying male advisers is far more fascinating than one would expect. The pageants, the arguments and the personal relations are beautifully described in this book, and Elizabeth I’s personality and strength shine through instead of being smothered by historic detail. It takes a rare kind of biographer to bring to life someone who died centuries ago and whose personality has been exaggerated and become such an undetachable part of her day and age that it is almost impossible to get to the actual person inside. Having an entire Age named after one is no mean feat and something only a handful of kings can boast of and this biography reveals some of the reasons why.
So this summer, whether you’re bingeing on Netflix’s “The Crown” or ITV’s “Victoria”, give yourself the pleasure of reading Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years and as an added bonus, also try out Victoria: A Life by A. N. Wilson.