• Deborah MB

Women in danger in 'The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy'

In The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy, Alexandra Walsh tells us a double story. On the one hand, the story of Lady Arbella Stuart, her female supporters, and her offspring, in her claim to queendom after the death of Queen Elizabeth I, in favour of James I; on the other, the story of Dr Perdita Rivers, her twin sister Piper, and their whole historian team as they unravel the mystery of the Stuart claim. Added to a surprising conclusion to the events, Perdita’s team also deal with love, betrayal, and a dastardly enemy intent on their destruction alongside the suppression of the truth they uncover.

To spin her tale, Walsh creates a secret sisterhood of noblewomen in Tudor England, the Ladies of Melusine, working in the shadows to (unsuccessfully, in the end) stop and overthrow the patriarchal powers. Their codes and items are what lead Perdita, Piper, and the others to confirm that Lady Arbella, and her children, were the true preferable heirs to the throne. For that, they are all targeted by MI1 Elite, and archenemy Randolph Connors, who despite all their power cannot gain access to Marquess House, family home of the twins, and secret keeper for the Ladies of Melusine over the centuries.

Who would enjoy this

First of all, The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy is the third volume of a series, and very clearly the closing chapter for the whole saga. Thus, it will make sense for readers of the previous volumes to follow up and get their ending.

Secondly, I would recommend it to people who enjoy slow burns, British history, and learning without studying. The tome is well researched and full of detail.

Finally, I would offer it to people who love conspiracy theories, particularly those with a feminist twist. Whether to bemoan the harm done to Lady Arbella and the Ladies of Melusine, or to cheer the winning brilliance of Dr Rivers, they will find their interests met.

Who should give this a pass

The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy is not for those who want a fast-paced story. You are either a patient reader, or you give this a wide berth.

Similarly, this is not the right book for a reader with a love for credible storylines and characters. Despite the heavy reliance on historical research, Lady Arbella comes through as rather vacuous and insignificant to the large tapestry of history; the baddies are super-bad; and everyone is beautiful, brilliant, rich, and powerful.

Conclusions and suggestions

The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy is, as mentioned, vastly researched, as well as carefully planned and structured. It is also well written, and will be attractive to many a reader. Sadly, as far as engaging the more demanding readership, it has several issues.

There is a British expression which sums up my feelings about the story of Lady Arbella Stuart after reading this book: not fussed. Despite having picked up the tome for its content matter (I love history, conspiracies, and learning about relevant female figures), I was left with an image of a petulant child-woman who was enamoured with her own claim, and the adulation of those around her. Someone so removed from reality, she would risk civil war for a crown, yet express incredulity when those near her would risk themselves to help her escape The Tower. I felt the fantasy diminished the woman I had learned about.

With regards to the ‘contemporary’ events in the story, I could not relate to any of the other characters. Most particularly, I could not take seriously the whole ‘hunted down by an elite body specialised in preventing the truth from rendering asunder the whole fabric of our modern government’ vibe of the MI1 Elite force. It made me burst out laughing a few times, roll my eyes at least. I will not tell you what I think of mega-rich, mega-crazy, megalomaniac Raymond Connors’ character. I could just as well imagine the Avengers, or Nicolas Cage as Benjamin Franklin Gates, rampaging through the pages.

There are some elements which could help improve such a book, such as:

- Not falling in love with the characters. This tends to turn characters into such ideal beings, they are unbelievable, thus un-relatable.

- Similarly, keep the baddies multi-faceted or lose them as caricatures.

- Research is wonderful, but it shouldn’t swamp the narrative. It makes no sense for historians to get long presentations on basic details on a section of history they have been working on for the last few years. Imply, or set an appendix.

- Mind the pace – long expositions (see the previous point) bring the action to a screeching halt.

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