Ever since reading The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory, I have been borderline-obsessed with the Tudor dynasty. In fact, I read the aforementioned book at least a dozen times over the course of a couple years. Sadly, I will not be able to say the same for The Marriage Game. Overall, I found the book to be entirely too long, repetitive, and a rather shallow depiction of a Queen that has been purported to be intelligent, wise, and a good care-taker of her people and kingdom.
I understood by the title, The Marriage Game, that this book would mostly focus on how bull-headed Queen Elizabeth I was about marriage, and how she managed to avoid it at all costs, despite the many dangers of leaving England without an heir. I knew there would be drama and romance, especially where Lord Robert Dudley was involved, but I was also expecting more of an in-depth look into the Queen's frame of mind in the matters of the religious upheaval that occurred during her sister's reign, the politics of the era, and the advances made in education, the arts, and medicine. Instead, I became intimately familiar with Elizabeth's childish temperament, loose ways with countless men, cowardice in dealing with serious issues, and frustrating emotional outbursts on almost every. single. page.
Her love affair with Robert Dudley was intriguing at first, but Elizabeth's ceaseless cat-and-mouse game eventually wore my patience thin. She led this poor man on for 20+ years! Sure, Robert advanced very far and had all the comforts life could offer because of his devotion to and love for the Queen, but he never had a moment's rest or peace for all the emotional upheaval she brought into his life. Elizabeth's pettiness, jealousy, and impertinence was such that she refused to allow Robert the true happiness he could have found in his eventual marriage to Lettice Essex, nor did she allow him the freedom to experience the full joy of fatherhood. She was verbally, and sometimes physically, abusive to her counselors and courtiers, even when many of them had proved their loyalty ten times over. She was excessively vain and vindictive, and quite frankly, a poor leader. Any decision she (eventually) made came only after great effort on the part of her lords and counselors, and after a ridiculous amount of waffling, tears, and hysterics on her part.
Can you tell I'm annoyed? I am. I have a headache just writing this review.
There were some interesting bits, such as Elizabeth's infamous run-ins with Mary, Queen of Scotts and her skirmishes with the Spanish Armada, but overall, this book is glaringly lacking in one important aspect: plot. While I am more of a character-focused reader, all Alison Weir accomplished in her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I, is painting her in a very unfavorable light, which makes it hard for the reader to sympathize. This is unfortunate because when you think about Elizabeth's tumultuous early years, and how truly terrifying it must have been to be woman on the throne, there should have been a lot with which to sympathize, but Alison Weir simply did not make this a priority. And that's fine. As an author, she chose to focus, very decidedly, on Queen Elizabeth's staunch avoidance of marriage and subsequent flirtations, and left out most of the other historical aspects of her reign.
If you approach this book in the right frame of mind, you may very well enjoy it, as others did. It's too shallow for my tastes, thus the two-star rating.