Thursday, July 20, 2023

Review: All The Queen's Spies by Oliver Clements

by Oliver Clements
Release Date: March 14, 2023
2023 Atria/Leopoldo & Co.
Kindle Edition; 400 Pages
ISBN: 978-1982197469
Audiobook: B0B5Z14LWN
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

With rumors of the end times swirling, philosopher and astronomer John Dee travels to Prague in an effort to prevent one of Catherine de Medici’s seductive ladies-in-waiting from luring the Holy Roman Emperor into a crusade against England.

To convince the famously occult-loving Emperor to join his side, Dee entices him with the esoteric Book of Secrets, a volume that, if decoded, could provide the chance to control the levers of heaven and earth. But Dee faces enemies at every turn, including a female codebreaker who could be the undoing of Dee and the British Empire.
My Thoughts
All The Queen's Spies is the third book in this series, and while I enjoyed it as I love stories about John Dee, I did struggle with the pacing and some of the actual writing.  Rich in historical detail, this book takes us to a time that is not as well-known about John Dee's life so I found the author's descriptions to be fascinating. Despite this, some of the descriptions were a bit murky and I felt as if the author didn't quite know what to do with some of the historical details and the story he was trying to tell.  
First of all, Dee is an interesting character during this time period.  Interested in the occult and in divination, he made himself useful to Queen Elizabeth I when his services were required, something that was not that unusual during this time period when science was kind of wrapped up in the supernatural and was slowly making its way towards the more factual study we know today.  People were quite superstitious and often looked at Dee for answers to things they couldn't explain; such things however, also made him a scapegoat and when people didn't like his answers, he would also be to blame for when things went wrong.  Personally, I couldn't imagine living on the whims and desires of someone else all of the time and the stress that would cause.  But the author managed to capture the essence of that time period quite well, and even though I know John Dee's fate, I still felt tense every time he had interactions with the rich and wealthy.
The secondary characters were also fascinating, most based on historical figures, and I especially loved the addition of Christopher Marlowe and seeing some of his adventures as a spy. It has been speculated he was a government spy, so I loved having him a such a character in this book and although the intricate politics with France were murky the way they were explained in the book, I am very familiar with them so I enjoyed them quite a bit. I do think they would be confusing for someone who doesn't know very much about them though, as European politics during this time period are not easy to untangle.

And while I enjoyed the characters, the actual plot left me somewhat frustrated. I felt like the author wasn't quite sure where he was going with the plot, whether he wanted to display the dangerous political nature of the time period, or how John Dee was involved in what happened, but neither felt fully developed, not really explained how dangerous the situation really was as the characters just seemed to react in this dreary fashion.  It's not that it wasn't interesting, but there definitely was a tension missing that should have been there for such a scenario.  

All The Queen's Spies was an enjoyable book overall, but it did lack tension and suspense as the plot was a bit murky; it felt like the author was having difficulty pulling all the many strands together which made the overall story seem dreary and slow at times.  Because this is the third book in the series, some readers may wish to read the first two books to get a richer understanding of John Dee and his life, but if you have any knowledge of the time period, I don't think it's necessary and you can read as a standalone.