I really, really enjoyed this book – plus I learned a lot of really interesting things about Tudor art and symbology!
In 1572, the good looking and talented Nicholas Hillyarde paints the first of many portraits of Elizabeth I, England’s “Virgin Queen”. His ability to capture the likeness of his patrons make him famous and his skills are much sought after by the rich and powerful members of the Elizabethan Court. His loyalty to Elizabeth even leads him to becoming part of Sir Francis Walsingham’s information network. One day he is approached by a young man with an intriguing commission. Hillyarde is to paint the man holding a lady’s hand – a hand which descends from a cloud – complete with a puzzling motto: “Attici Amoris Ergo”… There is something familiar about this young man’s face, and Hillyarde is led down a dark path of investigation to discover who this young man may be. Who is the young man? Has Hillyarde stumbled across a dark royal secret, and, if so, is there evidence hidden elsewhere?
I have only a very superficial understanding of Tudor art and the symbols used in it, and knew exceedingly little about Nicholas Hillyarde (now modernly spelled Nicholas Hilliard), so I was wary about buying this book even though it sounded intriguing. Thus, I downloaded a sample chapter to see if I’d like it and BAM I was hooked. Not only was the writing good, I was already learning things. Did you know that an iris in Queen Elizabeth’s portrait could serve as a subtle reminder that England help territory in France? Or that the colors of the fan she held could tell a story all on their own to the viewer? Or that the rage for miniature portraits was also a diplomatic tool? How cool is that?
There was also the books delightful way of slipping significant bits of history, and small vignettes of the more famous Tudor personalities, into the narrative based on who Hillyarde was painting and when. I had to keep stopping the book so I could go look up the images online to see the finished product! (They were gorgeous, BTW. No wonder the artist is so respected.)
As for the speculative fiction … it was a great plot line but I think it is a little too far fetched to be reasonable. However, unlike other speculative fiction of this type, Taylor went out of her way to make it plausible which added significantly to my enjoyment. There was the additional benefit of learning yet more bits of Tudor art arcana I had not known!
In sum, I adored this book and highly recommend it.