“The wolf is sitting on his haunches under our ancient chestnut tree, his eyes boring straight through me. Grace Bab always said he would come to Blackchurch Cottage, and I never believed her.” The first paragraph in The Stolen One.
When I picked this book up, I thought it would be about werewolves in the court of Queen Elizabeth (the original QE), according to the summary inside the jacket cover. Or maybe because the title was The Stolen One, it had to do with fairy changelings during the time of Queen Elizabeth. But that was all due to my constant fantasy/SF reading, where one takes descriptions literally. What The Stolen One is, is a historical “What If?” story.
This is the story of Katherine (Kat) Bab, a talented 16 year old embroidery artist who wants to find out who she really is, and what that means to her, her foster sister, her foster mother, and everyone around her. It’s all told in first person from Kat’s point of view. But it’s a more complex story than you’d think. There are secrets here that everyone keeps from everyone else.
Kat has known from an early age that she is not the daughter of Grace Bab, but she is favored over Grace’s natural daughter, the deaf Anna. Grace carefully hides any clues of Kat’s parentage from Kat, but that plan is blown out of the water one night with the appearance of a dwarf named Jane, who threatens to take Kat away; but Jane is ill, and Grace lets her die of the plague that same night. But Kat overhears everything, and her latent hunger for knowledge explodes into a near obsession after Grace dies soon after (of cancer or the plague, or both). She ignores the local pear-farmer’s son plea for marriage, and takes her sister Anna with her to the big city of London.
It’s a story with a lot going on in it. And along the way, I discovered along with Kat how HUGE Queen Elizabeth’s wardrobe really was, and what the upkeep of all her clothing meant! But that’s only a side story, really. Interspersed with Kat’s monologue is a diary-Grace Bab’s diary-and it gives answers along the way that Kat would have no other way of knowing. But what’s amazing to me is that, the more Kat learns, the more she hates Grace and doesn’t seem able to forgive her, even with what she discovers about Grace’s own background, and why she hid Kat for so long.
Kat’s other important relationship is with her foster sister Anna, who is also in love with that pear farmer’s son, and goes wherever Kat goes, even if it’s not in her best interest. Kat cannot figure out why Grace ignores her own daughter so much; perhaps it’s the birth defect, or perhaps not. Anna didn’t seem as clearly defined as Kat, or some of the other characters, even though Kat spent a lot of time thinking of her (or not) as the story progressed. And even Kat underestimates Anna; she knows a lot more than anyone gives her credit for.
There was a nice feel for the era, and the speech patterns for the characters lent color. But best of all were the relationships between all of the women in the book. Sure, there were men, but Queen Elizabeth’s court seemed to be a primarily female one, going by this novel. In fact, there were so many (historical and fictional) that I had a hard time keeping them all straight! But Kat was the main focus, of course, and her rise to Queen’s favorite made for some interesting reading.
The main problem with using an almost exclusive first person point of view is how limited it is, and this interfered with later revelations in the story: the reader hears of a death of a major character off-stage, through a letter, and it feels emotionally removed, for instance.
The author also inserts the Tudor Family Tree at the end, and fills in the reader with “what happened to” information about some of the real life women she used in the story. I do like Crowley’s attention to detail to how women were taken advantaged of during the Elizabethan period, and how it affects specific women.
It was a fun book to get into, but I had to change my own mind-framing (it’s hard when you think all the wolves in the beginning are going to turn into werewolves! and I feel totally silly about that now) but it is a wonderful historical What If novel.
Oh, and if you’re wondering why I thought there might be werewolves…here’s the cover blurb:
Kat’s true identity is a secret, even from her. All she has ever known are Grace and Anna and their small village. Kat wants more-more than hours spent embroidering finery for wealthy ladies and more than Chrisian, the gentle young farmer courting her.
But there are wolves outside, Grace warns. Waiting, with their eyes glowing in the dark…and Grace has given Kat safety and a home when no one else would.
Then a stranger appears in their cottage, bringing the mystery of Kat’s birth with her. In one night, Kat’s destiny finder her; She will leave. She will journey to London, and her skill with the needle will atrract the notice of the magnificent Queen Elizabeth–and of the wolves of the court. She will discover what Grace would never tell her. Everything will unravel.
Win this book! Comments reccing other historical books set in this era (or others) with strong female protagonists are in the running. The winner will be announced in a week from the original posting of this review.