Period pieces are a dime a dozen - many are written, but few are so engaging as Alison Weir's tale about an extraordinary figure in English history who starts off as an already quite extraordinary little girl whose life is affected deeply for years by the death of her mother Anne Boleyn. Telling the tale of the trials and tribulations of a young girl of royalty up until her coronation as queen turned out to be one of the most riveting historical portrayals I have ever had the pleasure of having anyone read to me. Throughout, I found myself witnessing the way Elizabeth navigates her way through the many dangers of life at court by sheer ingenuity of her intellect, growing up as a teenager who succumbs to the life-threatening perils of love, and always as a woman who, though modeled by her late mother's beauty and father's staunch bravado, takes these qualities and makes them her own in order to prep herself to become a successful ruler one day, sometimes unwittingly.
But this is a considerably lengthy read, and one character solo can only be engaging for so long, I believe. That is why some of the side characters are crucial to the engagement of the reader/listener. Getting to know the ones closest to Elizabeth, especially the wonderful Kat Ashley, was a treat in itself. If it weren't for some of these characters, my interest would surely have waned.
However, this story would not have had such an effect on me, were it not for Rosalyn Landor's wonderful performances. Not all her impersonations are perfect (most of the males sound too much the same), but those are far too few compared to the many other excellent performances. The novel overflows with characters, and it's a wonder Landor is able to keep up such an exquisite job of being able to "age" Elizabeth throughout her years as a young girl, a teenager, and as a budding young ruler - all the while conjuring up enough accents of all sorts (and of all ages for that matter) so that the listener is able to distinctly remember each persona she plays is no mean feat at all. I can only imagine how mentally taxing it must have been to switch between all those impersonations on the fly while maintaining consistency and differentiation. To me, Landor was the missing element of this story. I honestly felt that had I read this book in actual print, it would not have been impressed upon me anywhere as strongly as it did with Landor's narration. Through her, the history of young Elizabeth just comes alive. She is officially one of my favorite audiobook narrators.
This was by far one of my favorite audiobooks. It was a big help in getting me through the tedious 8-hour work days. The only true downside to the audiobook was that by the time the story ended, I was a little sad to hear it ended. Throughout this 20+ hour tale, I felt that I had grown up with Elizabeth and unfortunately had to let her go simply because it was her time to go and that I had to stop holding on to her. That's how much this story and audio narration has affected me. I haven't regretted a single minute of the audio.
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