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Roses Have Thorns spans about 25 years, starting when Elin von Snakenborg leaves Sweden in the company of Princess Cecelia, (about 5 years into Elizabeth’s reign) and ending around the time Mary, Queen of Scots, was finally executed. As is often the case with novels covering such a long time period, a lot of things are rushed or passed right over. In addition, Elin, or Helena as she adopts after choosing to stay in England, is a Maid of Honor in the queen’s privy chamber. She’s not on the battlefield at Cadiz or sailing with her friend, Sir Francis Drake. She’s not in meetings with Parliament or watching Mary in the Tower. She’s turning down linens. Because there’s not a lot of direct action, the story comes off a lot like Helena, sedate, consistent, and bland.
Unfortunately, Helena just isn’t a very realized character. She does get a few moments of interest, but they revolve solely around the people in her life. It’s scandalous that her fiance is banging her sister in a broom closet or that an actor threatens to turn her engagement upside-down, but she never reacts in a way that makes it more interesting or more sympathetic. Life happens to Helena. Likewise, Elizabeth is portrayed as an omniscient goddess with a heart made of cotton candy and rainbows and a temper like no other, but we rarely see her do anything. We hear a lot about her hopes and dreams undying love for Robert Dudley, but for a book that purports to be “vividly conjuring” the time period, it’s surprisingly light on political intrigue.
There are some tense scenes, dealing mostly with Helena's second husband and where his loyalties lie. I did also really enjoy the scene with Elizabeth and the pins. It was the only time I felt true emotion between the two of them. But, in the end, I just couldn't overcome the odd pacing, (Helena's pregnancies are frequently hand waved away as, "We made love." Serve the queen. Serve the queen. Serve the queen. "Oh yeah, I was by now 8 months pregnant,") and lack of action.