I borrowed Unicorn's Blood from the library because I am fascinated by Elizabeth I. I have read quite a lot of fiction based on her life and reign and from the outset I have to tell you that this is not one of the best I've read.
History has speculated on the possibility that the Virgin Queen had a child when she was the 15 year old Princess Elizabeth. Unicorn's Blood is based around this but instead of a baby being born the Princess has had a miscarriage or bungled abortion which leads to her becoming gravely ill with childbed fever and writing her last will and testament. Even at 15 she knew her royal blood and place in succession to the throne would not allow her to have the baby of someone who hadn't been carefully chosen by her (then) Fathers council.
Unicorn's Blood skins forward 40 years or so to when Queen Elizabeth I is ageing. It is 1586 and she has reigned for nearly 30 years when her will, which was hidden inside a book she herself had written, comes to light. Many people are searching for it because the man who has the proof that the Queen is not as pure as she makes out will be the man who ultimately controls England.
I thought Unicorn's Blood was quite hard to get into at first and I struggled with the first 70 or 80 pages. Even when the pace picked up I thought it was a little bit too farfetched and the tale did not ring true. It is a work of fiction obviously but I think when a fiction story is based around a real life person then it should at least sound like it could happen.
Unicorn's Blood is told in the first person by the Virgin Mary and I could not for the life of me see why. One of the main characters is a fallen nun who is now a drunkard and a witch performing abortions and drinking cheap brandy. She loves her young grandaughter, Pentecost and it is touching how this selfish old woman will not allow herself to die until Pentecosts dowry and future is stable.
I cannot fathom why the Virgin Mary should be narrating the book though and I found it a little bit confusing when I had read 3 pages of plot to find I am really reading the thoughts of Our Lady and that these thoughts sometimes have very little bearing on the story.
The characters are all good in Unicorn's Blood and I found them all likeable in their own way. I was not keen on the portrayal of Elizabeth I and even though the book is about her she didn't feature very heavily in the pages. She is referenced all the time as she is the sovereign and everyone wants to control her or influence her thinking.
I liked in particular Thomasina who is the Queens adored Fool, a midget who tumbles and cartwheels for Her Majesty's entertainment. Patricia Finney brought her alive for me and described her in such a way that I could see her climbing walls and shinning up pipes without a care in the world and wanting only to help her benefactor the Queen.
All of the characters and settings are described well and I liked the fragments of information that Patricia Finney included about the medieval dress because it was nice to be able to picture the characters as the story progressed. The scenery was nicely described as well and the description of Little Ease, the infamous tiny 'cell' in the Tower of London made me shiver and thank God I was not alive in those turbulent times.
I think Unicorn's Blood was quite gripping and very interesting but I think it could have been more. The plot is brilliant in theory but I do not think the author really found her way through all the twists and turns. By this I mean it seemed very simple but I think it should have had more surprises in it and the ending of the novel definitely suffered from damp squid syndrome.
You can buy a paperback copy of Unicorn's Blood from Amazon Sellers for as little as 1p but the full cover price is around £13 for the hardback, or you could borrow it from your library like I did.
Published by Orion
Patricia Finney's outstanding literary thriller plunges into the vivid and deadly world of the 16th century: from the torture chambers of the Tower to the elegant artifice of court life; from the bawdy-houses of Southwark to the Queen's own bed. Why are the Jesuits, the Queen's Puritan councillors and even the Queen herself searching for the mysterious Book of the Unicorn? What ancient scandal threatens Elizabeth Tudor as she fights to avoid executing her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots? And what of the man waking up in the dungeon with no memory of who he is? David Becket and Simon Ames, the two mismatched heroes of FIREDRAKE'S EYE find themselves unwillingly in the thick of the struggle to unravel the plot.